May 11

Swiss Cheese Love

               

                When Paul was writing to the Corinthian church around A.D. 55 in his letter we know as 1 Corinthians, he wanted to address particular issues and problems that were affecting the immature congregation. There were significant body life issues they were dealing with; Corinth had a reputation for sexual immorality, religious diversity, and corruption. This culture affected the church negatively, which started causing divisions over various issues. One of these problems was the use and misuse of the spiritual gifts. Paul spent significant time teaching how the church should use spiritual gifts to edify each other. However, right in the middle of the teaching, he took a digression to address an even more foundational issue, the virtue of love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

                Ancient Greco-Roman literature praised different virtues and Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 13 seems very similar in this style, but that doesn’t mean it was just a culturally relevant theme. No, the virtue of love is a supreme virtue on its own right for Christians. Jesus set the standard, showing self-sacrificing love through his death on the cross. He also taught that to love God and others are the two greatest commandments. So it’s not hard to see why the foundational virtue of Christianity is love, specifically God’s love (John 3:16), but also our response to Him and towards others.

                Our response towards others is what Paul was addressing in chapter 13. These qualities of love apply to all human relationships, from casual encounters with strangers to handling conflict with family. The described actions flow out of a personal commitment to desire the best for someone else, not a feeling. Paul wrote this passage to the Corinthian church, but thankfully, God saved it for us today.  It gives specific characteristics that we can focus on to improve our overall quality of love towards others, without it, we might be found with gaping holes in how we show love towards others.

                   Thinking of holes in how we love, I’m reminded of my late grandmother when looking at this passage. Specifically, the “keeps no record of wrongs” phrase. She grew up on a farm in the Deep South and had a hard life as a sharecropper. I think that made her callus in lots of ways. Now when I say this, know that we all loved her, and we knew that she loved us, but one thing that the family “joked” about, not in front of her of course, was her “black book.” She kept a little black journal in which she recorded all kinds of information, and how she felt about it. Let’s just say that you didn’t want to be in the black book as an offender because it would take a long time to get out of that prison If you were lucky someone else took your spot sooner than later. It was evident who the offender was because she would let you and others know how she wasn’t treated right by so and so on a regular basis. The serious joke was that as soon as she died the first one in the house was to burn the journal. I share that example because of how we know she loved her family, but certain regular habits were not loving. We all have room to grow, and Paul’s goal is that we the church would mature in all qualities and not have Swiss cheese love.     

Mar 09

Present Suffering vs. Future Glory

This week in my LifeGroup we were talking about Christ’s redemption of “all things” (Col 1:20). In that discussion, we readily thought of those who trust in Christ as part of the redeemed, but that didn’t seem to be “all things.” We turned to look at Romans 8 and a fascinating passage about Christ’s redemption of creation and us.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19-21)

                We know from Genesis that God cursed creation in the aftermath of the fall. The “bondage to decay” that Paul mentioned covers the consistent death, disease, and destruction that we see around us. It also reminds me of the second law of thermodynamics (sorry, engineering major coming out). It states that a system will move to disorder over time. It is losing usable energy, decaying. An ice cube melting, iron rusting, and stars burning out are all examples of this type of decay. Theoretically, eons from now everything will be broken down to the point that it is unusable and all life would have ceased to exist. Thankfully, we will never see that day. Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 23

Joy in Trials

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

               This is one of those hard passages to deal with, not on a theological or cognitive level, but in the practical day-to-day life. James is not telling us to be joyful because of the difficult situation, but because of what God can do through it in our lives. It is a joy flowing out of faith. The joy from a confident trust in God’s work. I speak from experience that this is possible. I am a cancer survivor, four months of my 21st year where filled with surgery and chemotherapy. There’s nothing like 8 hours a day having drugs pumped into your body that will teach you perseverance. I didn’t have a joy like I was happy all the time, but a steady faith, I was at peace. I was glad because I knew God was at work in my life and I look back on that time with joy. I saw my faith strengthened and my witness affected others around me. I wouldn’t be in ministry today if not for that time. I think this is what James is talking about, not just an emotional feeling of happiness.   Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 16

King Kong Discipline

              My behavior was less than desirable at times while growing up. My father seared into my conscience one such time that I will never forget. I was a preteen, and for some reason, which I don’t remember, I got mad at my mom. An argument happened while we were just outside our home and I angrily stepped inside alone, slammed the door, and with all the preteen gusto I could muster I shot my mom a bird. Yep, I extended her the middle finger. I turned away from the door just in time to see the blur of a King Kong sized hand come swooping in to make contact on the side of my head. I can’t help but imagine those pilots shooting at King Kong must have felt the same shock when swatted down around the Empire States building in the movie. As I picked myself up and headed to my room, I realized that my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the dark room when I first came in and dad had been sitting on the couch. I didn’t see him, but he saw the whole thing. More punishment followed on my posterior. But you know what, I showed my mom more respect from then on, and we have a great relationship now.

                 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).

                The author of Hebrews wrote to a group of Jewish Christians who were undergoing hard times. They were facing persecution, trials, and hardship of various kinds. Many were tempted to leave the faith. Sometimes adversity came through no fault of their own, just because they were Christian and the culture hated them. Other times the suffering came because of their sin. We see this type of discipline many times in the Old Testament. The Israelites would follow false gods, and the Lord would bring judgment on them to turn their hearts back to himself. Hebrews 12:4-11 deals with this second type of trial, what we would call discipline.

                Discipline is never pleasant, just like when my father punished me, but if done properly it gives moral instruction and corrects behavior. Earthly fathers do their best, but our Heavenly Father does what’s best for us. As verse 11 says, discipline is a training process. A process to work sin out of us, that we might be holy as our Heavenly Father is holy. God brings about the whole process for correction and training, never punitive. Christ already paid the punishment for sin. His blood covers us so that we do not have to pay the penalty. That doesn’t mean there are no consequences for sin.  

                It is easy sometimes for us to be discouraged when we suffer. We might be tempted to think that God is punishing us. I struggled with this years ago when I felt like every bad thing that happened was my fault and God was judging me for my sin. But this is a legalistic way of relating to God, that says, “God set up rules that I must follow, and when I don’t He punishes me. To make Him happy, I have to do this and that, or else.” This thought pattern is from faulty religious thinking, not relational thinking. “Have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son?” (Hebrews 12:5). Our “Father of Spirits,” another way of contrasting his heavenly rule to our earthly parents, gave us these words for encouragement. He is explaining why these things happen so that we endure them with a correct attitude. His discipline is out of love because we are sons. In ancient culture, fathers were very active in their children’s upbringing, but they ignored an illegitimate child. The comparison is the same for God. All chastisement is out of love and concern for what is best for us as part of His family. Rather than allow our hard experiences to nurture seeds of doubt in our relationship with the Father, we must trust Scripture and be trained by what God allows in our lives.

Feb 09

Therefore

                Whenever you see therefore, you must always ask wherefore.” I can’t remember where I first heard that phrase, but it stuck with me. Maybe it was one of the preachers in my life; maybe it was in seminary that I heard it. It is the idea that when you read “therefore” in the Bible, you must always explore why it is there. What are the previous thoughts that are influencing the following ones? Therefore is a common word to see, but Paul diligently used it in meaningful ways. Most of his letters use a pattern that lays out some doctrinal truth, followed by practical application. He would lay the foundation for our belief, and then show how it affects our lives. Most of his letters have two major sections like this, but sometimes he would utilize this literary style within a couple of verses.

                Look at Romans 5:1 for example, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith…” Here we see the transition from one section to another. Almost everything in chapters 1-4 was building an argument that Paul summarized in this one phrase, “we have been justified through faith.” Paul has shown how we are in a right standing with God through the application of Christ’s sacrifice through faith. Now Paul is about to show us how this fact of justification affects our lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 02

Fasting and Races

            You know in college there are those stupid things you sometimes do, and you think, “Why did I do that?” One of mine involved an apple, race, and an early morning prayer meeting at a local park. I was a freshman and had become a Christian just a couple months before. I was passionate about learning and growing in the faith, and someone told me about this spiritual discipline called fasting. I decided to try it, and so I didn’t eat for lunch or dinner. There was an early prayer meeting the following day, so I figured I would break my fast the next morning. I had an encouraging day while fasting; I spent my meal times in prayer and didn’t struggle with the hunger. It was the next day when the problems arose. What I hadn’t considered was the meal plan and living in the dorm, no food, and no open dining halls this early. I was ravenously hungry, and all I had was an apple that I devoured on my way to the meeting. It was just enough to make the hunger pains go away; I thought I was back to normal. The meeting went well, but for some reason, a friend challenged me to a race afterward. Of course like any teenager I accepted (and won), but the second I crossed the line, I realized I had messed up big time. I was sick as a dog and shaking more than a belly dancer in an earthquake. Thankfully, one of the other guys had some crackers and candy to get my blood sugar up again, but I had learned a practical lesson about fasting. Jesus said when you’re fasting, look normal (Matt 6:16-18), but I think there is an unspoken, “don’t be stupid” that I learned that day.   Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 26

Daniel and Darius

                  There are certain stories in the Bible that almost everyone has heard of before, especially as children’s stories.  Daniel in the Lion’s Den is one of them. We love stories like these because of their simplicity and memorable qualities. What we often don’t realize is that Daniel is controversial in many ways. Part of the book is end times prophecy; part of the book is ancient history. On both accounts, there is controversy. Critics and scholars question many details. Some of which have been answered by archaeology. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 19

The Choice is Yours

Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato are some of the greatest philosophers of all times. These men affected thought for a thousand years in the Western world, and they were all Greek. It’s no wonder that the Greeks of the first century prided themselves on their wisdom and philosophies. However, opposing the Greek model was the teachings of a humble Jewish Rabbi, and His influence was growing around the world through followers like Paul.   Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 12

Godliness Training 101

A couple of years ago I started working out with a friend from my small group at something called F3 (fitness, faith, and Fellowship). My friend runs marathons and works out regularly, so I knew the training would be good. The F3 training is an outdoor boot camp style training for men, and they meet all throughout Charlotte in the early morning. I had no idea what I was in store for. By the end of the first workout, I knew I was in trouble and out of shape. I could barely move for the next two days. I had sore muscles that I didn’t even know existed.  Some of these guys were doing serious training for different events that were impressive to see. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 05

Happy New Years! Happy New Years! Happy New Years!

Have you ever noticed yourself saying something over and over again? It might be that same New Year’s resolution from the last five years that I’m making again. Maybe it’s just because I’m a parent of young kids that I feel that way. I’m regularly telling the kids to pick up their toys, stop fighting with your siblings, stop burping at the table, and so on and so forth. Yes, my 3-year-old has learned to burp at will and is proud to share his new skill with anyone who will listen. But it’s not always negative comments that I’m telling them. I’m also regularly telling my kids that I love them, and how much they mean to me. It seems that the repetition is just part of life right now, but I’ll keep it up because it helps communicate important aspects of life that they need to know.

I cannot overstate the importance of repetition. In many areas of life, it makes the different between mediocre work and a masterpiece. Playing an instrument or sports training requires enormous amounts of repetition to increase skill levels. All areas of education use repetition to solidify learning. But it is also used in communication and literature to highlight points the author is trying to make. For instance, in Genesis chapter 1, the phrase, “and there was evening, and there was morning— the ____ day” is regularly repeated. This chapter in Genesis is very poetic, and this phrase is one of the many literary features contained within the passage. The phrase’s repetitiveness makes it stand out as a concrete divider between the days of creation for the reader. God is clearly at work doing notable acts of creation on each day, and the literary style found in the passage helps us see the parallel between the realm created and the rulers of that realm (i.e. day 1 & day 4).

There is more to this phrase, the first thing that stands out to me is that it starts with evening, then morning. Or said another way, the day starts out with night then followed by morning. Just to be clear with the term “morning,” it doesn’t mean that the day is only from sunset till lunch. Morning seems to be more generally used to refer to the whole daylight period that starts in the morning. Just like “evening” is representative of the entire period of the night. In the creation account of day one we see that there was first darkness, then light. This seems to be the best explanation for the author’s use of the pattern. Traditionally the Jews saw sunset as the start of the next day. For instance, the Sabbath begins on Sunset of Friday and goes till Sunset on Saturday (See Lev 23:32). We are not immune from this pattern either. We think of our day starting with the morning and ending at night, but even our day technically last from midnight to midnight.

The phrase has significance in other ways, such as when the author did not use it. It is only repeated six times, even though there are seven days of creation. Genesis chapter two records the seventh day where God rest and makes the Sabbath holy. Creation is the standard for our seven-day week, but Genesis never recorded the end of the seventh day. Which in one sense means that God is still taking a Sabbath rest. A fact that the writer of Hebrews picks up on in chapter 4 and uses as an illustration of the concept that God is resting now, and through Christ, we can enter His rest as well. This doesn’t mean that God is not working in the world, Jesus made this clear “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). Without getting off on a rabbit trail, the point is that this phrase carried significance well beyond the standard division of days that we see.

The repetition of God working each day of creation shows us that there is something we can learn from the pattern of work and rest. God created this pattern for us. As we go about our day, week, and month, there are repeated aspects of our life that show what’s significance to us. It might be as simple as brushing your teeth mid afternoon every day, to working out at the gym three days a week, doing a monthly budget, or setting aside a day of rest. These things that we do regularly have formed habits in our lives and they carry significance well beyond the simple act. As we head into the new year, it is a convenient time to reevaluate our actions to see if adjustment is needed. It’s the monotony of everyday life that builds habits that will last a lifetime, not a once a year commitment.

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