Tuesday, March 31, 2009

John 12 -- Filling The House

This chapter is filled with all kinds of good stuff. There is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. There is great teaching about death and resurrection. Even some confrontation thrown in to keep things tense and interesting. Yet the account which grabs me most is when Mary, Lazarus and Martha's sister, anoints Jesus' feet. I think part of this capturing me is I am preaching from this text on Sunday. Even so, it is a great text.

Mary takes this perfume, we are told it is pure nard, and it has a value of a years wage. In other words not only is it expensive, it is probably the best things she has in her material world. The jar of perfume represents her security and back up plan in this world. If her brother had not been raised by Jesus, and no one else stepped forward to provide, Mary could have thought, at least I have this jar of perfume if I need to sell it. She gives that up and anoints Jesus. She realizes he only security is not in the greatness of the material, but in the greatness of Jesus. The result of what happens when Mary brings her best, and most valuable to Jesus, the house is filled with the fragrance of perfume.

I wonder what our houses smell like. Are we bringing our best to God, or are we giving God what is left over? This includes but is not limited to our finances. Is God getting the best and most valuable portion of our lives, or simply what we have left when we serve everything else? God longs for us to give our absolute best and most valuable, not because God needs it. No, because we need to rely on God more than ourselves and our stuff.

The disciples and others missed the point of the story, they thought it was about money and stuff. In reality it is about trusting God and bringing our very best and most valuable to God. Do we miss it too?

Monday, March 30, 2009

John 11 -- Grave Clothes

The story of raising Lazarus from the dead has always intrigued me. Due to my familiarity with the story it is not the resurrection that captures my thought. I am more captured by the circumstances surrounding the resurrection act. Jesus was in another place when he gets word Lazarus is ill, Jesus himself declares Lazarus has died. It is also Jesus who knows the plan of raising Lazarus from the dead.

They get to the village and are confronted by the sisters, "If you had been here Jesus, our brother would not have died." How often do we come to Jesus in the same mindset. If you would have acted they way I prefer Lord, we would not be in this mess right now. Never do we give a thought that maybe in the middle of the mess is exactly where Jesus wants us to be. Jesus ends up at the tomb and calling Lazarus out of the tomb. Lazarus then emerges grave clothes and all.

The lines of Jesus are then offered, "take off the grave clothes and let him go." There is a very real and practical application here. Lazarus was more than likely wrapped and prepared for placement in the tomb. I cannot help but wonder if Jesus is not talking to the people, but rather talking to death itself. Many even though they are alive are walking around with the grip of death wrapped around them. Jesus says take off death and be free.

That is a message of encouragement for you and I today. No matter what has happened in our life, no matter how we have tied death around us, Jesus commands take the grave clothes off and be free. We simple must chose to release the power of sin and death, and claim the freedom of Christ. The freedom to follow and trust.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

John 10 -- Tough Teaching

John 10 is filled with some really great images and thoughts. It is not an easy chapter to work through when you really stop and think about it. We have the benefit of hindsight, which we always know has the capacity to be more accurate than the experience of the moment. In this passage Jesus is stating the way to the fullness of life we all crave can only be found one way. The exclusivity of that thought causes many to balk. Jesus is clear, the only way to experience the fullness of life we were created for is through a relationship with him. But that was not the scandal of the day, like it can be today.

The scandal of Jesus was he was claiming to be the Son of God. Jesus claims to be one with God. We read that and tend to think, duh. The first hearers of Jesus words however, would have had a very different reaction. In fact we know that there were different reactions, as that is what we read in the Gospels. The claim to be one with God would challenge everything about the religious system of the day. If Jesus truly is the Son of God, the religious system of the day would not longer produce the results it once did. That is to say, the religious leaders could no longer use religion to entrap people, because Jesus was setting people free.

It may seem odd that the religious leaders were ready to stone Jesus, or at least arrest him. Yet the original hearers may have reacted with applause. This claim to be equal with God is not a easy pill to swallow. Truth be known I think it is still difficult to grasp. We do not often question it because we are taught by religion to not question. I wonder how many are ready to stone Jesus today?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

John 9 -- Blindness

The account of the blind man receiving sight here in John 9 is one of my favorite portions of scripture. It is not merely the act of healing, rather what happens afterward that most intrigues me.

The religious people of the day confront this now able to see man regarding his new found ability. It is clear to all that Jesus is the one who did the healing and it is clear that it was done on the Sabbath. The religious leaders are working on building their case against Jesus, so they are trying to get this man to speak against Jesus. Then comes one of my favorite replies, "I don't know if he is a sinner or not, all I know is I can see.". To me that says, I don't care about your religious issues, all I know is my life has been forever changed because I met this man Jesus.

After dragging the man's parents into the mess, they question the once blind man again. After being asked to recount the healing again, the now able to see man gives another great answer. "Why do you want to hear it again? I have told you already. Do you want to hear it so you can become his disciple?" To say this outraged the religious leaders is an under statement. The end result is this man is kicked out of the religious establishment.

Jesus finds this man who is now banned from the institution, but able to see. The man is able to see more than the physical world, he is able to see what God is doing right in front of him. The religious leaders who claim to see God and know about God, could not see the work of God in their midst. The blind man can see, and the seeing men are blind. How is your vision?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

John 8 -- Confrontation

There are many attributes of Jesus which I admire, and try to emulate. Like most people I gravitate toward the Jesus who is full of love and grace. I don't even mind the Jesus who challenges me to live a more Kingdom focused life. I really like the Jesus who challenges the religious leaders. The Jesus I am most challenged by is the the one who is the master of confrontation.

In the beginning of chapter 8 we have the account of the woman caught in adultery. Here Jesus confronts the accusers but in a very indirect way. Later in the chapter the confrontations become more heated. A group of Jews is gathered around Jesus and a friendly discussion breaks out. There is discussion about Abraham, who many called father. Then the discussion gets heated when Jesus says their father is the devil.

I am not always good at saying the right thing at the right time. There is always a chance I am going to offend someone. When a person starts saying your father is the devil, this will not go over real well, especially if the are devoted to following God. To add to the insult, Jesus tells them they do not even know God the father. It is no wonder the people are getting a little aggressive. Then the final straw is when Jesus says, "Before Abraham was born, I am." This is not merely saying he was around before Abraham, Jesus used the term I am. That is the name God gave Abraham when he asked who should I tell them sent me.

Jesus not only claimed to know God. It was not only that he said those listening didn't. The questioning of the religious status quo was for the most part workable. The claim to be I am, is just too much, and the confrontation moves quickly to violence. They prepare to stone Jesus to death, but he gets away.

I understand the feelings of those angry with Jesus. Anytime someone questions my connection with God, I get a little more than polite with them. Yet Jesus has the authority to ask such questions. I wonder is Jesus is asking us right now, do you really know God, or are you settling for an empty ritual or tradition you have mistaken for God? Abraham was not the problem, it was that the people of Jesus day had replaced God with Abraham, making him an idol. Even good and godly things can become a idol, and when it happens Jesus will confront us through the Holy Spirit. Will you pick up a rock, or find freedom?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

John 7 -- Earthly Bound

Here is chapter 7 we find the words and work of the religious leaders beginning to pick up steam. However, it is not only the religious leaders. Some of what we might call the rank and file are beginning to question Jesus more. His own brothers don't appear to be convinced of Jesus as Messiah. Still it seems everyone in Jerusalem is talking about Jesus and wondering who he is.

At the heart of the discussion is the origins of Jesus. For most they see him as being from the Galilee, which is where his families home is. They do not have the benefit of the Scriptures to show them that he was in fact born in Bethlehem, the city the prophets said the messiah would be born at. From the person on the street to the religious leaders the possibility of a prophet, much less a messiah, living in the Galilee was simply preposterous. Galilee was a border region, not just geographically. Once a person was through the Galilee they were in Gentile country, and most of the Galilee was becoming inhabited by Gentiles. How would it be possible a the Son of God could be from that region?

The problem is the eyes being used are only human eyes. We all struggle with this. Our human eyes are earthly bound. We can only see what we experience. It is very difficult for us to function with the mindset of something outside of our human experience. Some of the crowd and the religious leaders are bound by what they understand of Jesus. In other words their Jesus can only be as big as they allow him to be.

We too can become earthly bound, and have a Jesus that is too small. Jesus is far beyond our wildest imaginations. Yes Jesus lived the human experience, felt what we feel, struggled with what we struggle with. Yet that is not the limit of Jesus. Often in our language and action we sever Jesus from the Trinity. We limit Jesus to human understanding because we are earthly bound. The time has come to allow Jesus to be expanded in our sight and understanding. It is not us who defines Jesus, rather it should be Jesus who defines us. This will mean we have to let go of some parts of our lives we hold pretty tight.

Monday, March 23, 2009

John 6 -- Tough Teaching

In this lengthy chapter of John there are accounts we are familiar with, and some we are not so familiar with. Many people who are mildly familiar with the stories of Jesus are familiar with the feeding of the 5000, and Jesus walking on water. Later in the chapter the teachings are less familiar and believe it or not harder to work with.

In some teaching which involves some grotesque images, Jesus declares that the way to life is through him. Then Jesus challenges tradition. For the Jewish people the work and wonders of Moses were nearly untouchable in the arena of criticism. Here in John 6 Jesus does not directly criticize Moses, but he points our the limited nature of the work of Moses. Referring to manna, Jesus says those who ate the bread of Moses all died, those who eat this bread, will live forever.

We might not always realize it, but tradition has just been slammed. Implied here is that keeping the traditions alone will still lead to death. Following after Jesus will lead to life. Yet it is hard to follow Jesus. He is controversial. He is a man who challenges the status quo of religion, government and daily living. Jesus does not seem interested in having people gather together in groups periodically to have a nice time together. Jesus seems interested in turning the world on its head for the sake of the Kingdom of God. What this really means is those who follow after Jesus will function differently, in every way possible, than the systems of the world.

At this point in Jesus teachings, many decide it is too much, and stop following Jesus. When Jesus asks the 12 is they too will leave Peter gives yet another masterful answer, "Lord to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." In other words, it is a lot, bordering on too much, but where else can we find life?

Where else can you find life, true, deep and beyond traditions and broken systems?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

John 5 -- Who Is Jesus

John chapter 5 attempts to answer a question that I think has been asked since Jesus walked the earth. Who is Jesus? We read the Scriptures as see all the amazing things Jesus is doing. He teaches with great authority, he brings healing, justice and mercy. Jesus knows the thoughts and hearts of those around him. Yet we are left with the key question, who is Jesus?

Many have written trying to define who Jesus was and is. In the Western world there has been a long standing, centuries, drive to define and quantify who Jesus is. The range is wide a varied. There are those who would say he was a wise prophet, others who would say he was a moral teacher. One does not have to look far to find someone who will say Jesus was simply a good man who has many legends surrounding his death and resurrection. Still there are those of us who hold that Jesus is the messiah.

In this chapter of John we get Jesus presenting his resume. Just after healing the man at the pool, the religious mucked mucks of his day push Jesus on who he is. The response, I am the Son of God. To us this is not a scandalous claim, because whether we believe it or not we have heard this claim about Jesus for a good long while. In the days of his human pilgrimage, this was beyond scandalous. This was an outright proclamation of being the long awaited for Messiah.

The problem was Jesus did not play by all the religious rules of the day. He healed on the Sabbath, he picked grain on the Sabbath, Jesus was found sharing a meal with those considered off limits to religion. The way Jesus says it, he is only doing what the Father shows him to do. In other words, not following the religious traditions, but God. Not following the rules of humanity, but following the direction of God.

So who is Jesus. As I see it, Jesus is the son of God, who lived, died and was raised from the dead so that we could see who God truly is. Jesus is the one who is depressed by religion, and challenges empty devotion. Jesus is none other than the One we have been looking for, but often do not have eyes to see.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

John 4 -- Spirit and Truth

I am always amazed at the trappings we are humans put on God. No where is this more evident than in the area of worship, especially corporate worship. Humanity is really good a determining what needs to be included or excluded as a part of worship. Some would say only hymns out of the book will work for true worship. While on the flip side others will say, that it is only through non-traditional music that we approach God. Huge arguments have broken out over the issue of what is worship, and in the end everyone is wrong and everyone is right.

In John 4 Jesus has an encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. In the midst of discussing her sorted past she changes the topic to talk about worship. It is clear that so called worship wars have been around for a long time. Isn't at least a little ironic to have something called a worship war, seems somehow... wrong. The discussion this woman and Jesus have regards the topic of true worship, the who, what, where etc.. Jesus is real clear, all that other stuff doesn't matter. What matters is the condition of your heart and life.

Many have used this passage to highlight the connection Jesus has will "outsiders" and it is true. Others have used this passage to talk about women as evangelists. And yes this passage has been used to talk about worship. Having said that, worship or any of the rest of it is not the point. the point is humanity does not get to define God. Now, that has not stopped us from trying. No matter how often and certain we are of our definition of God, it does not change who God is. Though we try and try, God is not made in our image. God is not bound to our limited understanding, God is so much bigger.

The passage in John 4 is really about asking how big is your God. What limits do you place on the God of the universe? I want to encourage all of us to expand the view we have of God.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

John 3 -- Increase and Decrease

Wow, what at chapter. John 3 is packed full of really great stuff. The challenge comes in reading all of it, and deciding what to write about. Of all that material, I am always amazed at John the Baptizer's response to the person baiting him about Jesus doing baptisms.

You can almost hear, at least I can almost hear this person, a Jew as identified by the text, as he questions John. My Western market driven mind hears, "He is pushing into your market share". In the context of John and Jesus, there is an element of shame and honor. It was an honor for John to baptize Jesus, now the man interacting with John is trying to show Jesus as shaming John. The response form John, "I must decrease and He must increase." John had been sent for one purpose and one purpose alone, to prepare the way of Jesus.

It is obvious the man questioning John did not see that. John quickly sets him straight. All focus is shifted from John's work to the work of Jesus. Other than the accounts of his imprisonment, and subsequent beheading, John is not heard from much again. It was more than just a saying, it was how John lives, Jesus must increase, and I must decrease. In other words, my work is done, I have completed what I have been sent to do.

I wonder how often we get the equation wrong. The drive to increase is strong. Individuals look for ways to increase their power, control, wealth and just about anything we can measure. Churches look to have more people in attendance, bigger budgets, more buildings, etc.... Where is Jesus in all this. We in the 21st century have been classically trained to push for our increase. The real need is to push past our classic training and realize, we must decrease, and Jesus must increase, in our lives and in our churches.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

John 2 -- Missing It

John wastes not time in his Gospel account bringing Jesus into conflict with the religious establishment. First Jesus turns water into wine, apparently choice wine that was the best of the party. Then after a little family time, Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the Passover. Upon arrival Jesus goes nuts on the people in the Temple courts selling things. Tables are overturned, people are scolded, and a call to holiness is issued.

As you might guess the religious people of the day were not so happy with Jesus actions. They want proof of his authority to do such things. The only proof Jesus offers is totally missed at the time. The religious people are more concerned with their little religious business than with the holiness of God. It is not until after the culmination of Jesus earthly ministry, the resurrection, that his actions are understood. At the moment everyone seems to miss it.

I wonder if we would miss it. Most of us are in churches that things are pretty patterned. If a chair is out of place, or something is not set quite right, there is a problem. I cannot help but wonder if Jesus would come into our places of worship and turn everything upside down. Better yet, would we get mad at this person, or would we cheer. Many times this passage in John, and in other Gospel accounts, is made to be about the marketplace in the Temple, and the misuse of the temple. There is a component of that, however, is it more about missing God for ritual.

The merchants were not there selling just anything. They were selling the items used as part of the work of the temple. If you didn't have, or some how forgot to bring, your animals needed for sacrificial offering, no worries you could purchase them. Any of the items needed to facilitate the work of the Temple could be purchased at the Temple. While the merchants are an issue, the greater issues is why people are not coming prepared. The trip to the temple had become an empty exercise. Jesus' challenge was not to the merchants, but to the people who were going about their relationship with God in a half-hearted way.

I wonder if it isn't time to allow Jesus to turn the tables in our lives. Are we missing it?

Monday, March 16, 2009

John 1 -- The One

Of all the Gospel accounts I like the way John starts out the most. There is not the listing of the relatives, there is not the complicated birth narratives, and there is some explanation about who Jesus is. All of these things are important and have their place in the big picture of who Jesus is, and why Jesus matters. Still, John tells the story in a way that opens the door for creative bluntness. He gets right to the story, but makes it poetic in the process.

Of the opening chapter I am drawn to the sense that Jesus is the One. For John the Baptizer, Jesus is the One who God had told him was coming. For Andrew and Peter, Jesus was the One they had been waiting for, the Messiah. For Phillip, Jesus was the One Moses wrote about in the Law, and who the prophets wrote about. It seems that whoever was interacting with Jesus saw him as the One. Well, maybe not everyone. Those who were seeking to find the One, and were open to how God would bring that One, were able to see.

It was not with fanfare, it was not with a royal pronouncement. No Jesus rather quietly moved into the neighborhood as Eugene Peterson likes to say it. Could you imagine Jesus being your next door neighbor? Then realizing years later he is the One. This is not simply something for the Bible and the first century. Jesus quietly moves into our neighborhood every moment. No matter where we are, we are in the midst of a neighborhood, and Jesus is in your neighborhood. the question is not whether Jesus is there, it is not whether Jesus is active. The question is do you see him as the One.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Philippians 4 -- Contentment

In the economic times our world is facing Paul's words here in Philippians 4 are particularly timely. There are people who were living in a land of plenty who all of sudden find themselves to be in a land of scarcity. Those who were in the land of scarcity already, and stretched even further, or a plain going without even more. It could be hard to be content with the situations we find ourselves in.

Where does our contentment come from? Paul says he has learned how to be content in all situations, how does he do that? Paul's contentment is not found in the stuff he owns, the balance in his bank account, or the development of his retirement. There was no stock portfolio for Paul to worry about, he did not have a 401k, or an IRA. Paul did not even have a regular paycheck. Yet he was content. Why? He remembered the source.

It is easy to think our contentment comes from our financial and life security. The fact is, all of that can be taken away in a matter of moments. The source of contentment is found only in Jesus Christ, and the relationship Jesus opens to us with God. Paul could be content because he knew Jesus was in charge, and all the needs would find a way to get met. I look at the affluence of stuff in my house and wonder, am I really trusting Jesus for my contentment, or am I trying to do that through stuff?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Philippians 3 -- Confidence

Yesterday the focus was on ambition and humility, which leads naturally to a conversation on confidence. A fine line exists between appropriate confidence and over-confidence. To describe the line is difficult, yet when the line has been transgressed, we know it. In this chapter Paul is not telling us it is wrong to be confident, rather he is telling us we must have confidence in the right things. Hence we walk into Paul's world of dualism, the physical or carnal life, and the spiritual or eternal life.

I understand Paul's distinction between the two, and it is true as well as important. However, the dualism can work to create a false barrier between them. Our physical life and spiritual life are impossible to separate. Wherever our physical life, there to is our spiritual life, and wherever our spiritual life there to is our physical life. All together, we simply have life. In this life we are to be confident, but not of our station in life or in the abilities we have. No our confidence should originate from outside ourselves.

Confidence in the flesh as Paul calls it is a very faulty confidence. No matter who we are, even Bill Gates, can find another person who has greater reason for fleshly confidence. It is a game no one can win. As is winning was the point. So what is the point? That we would look to God for our confidence and direction. We work hard, and toil long, but for what? What is it that we are chasing through this confidence?

If we are chasing anything other than God, we are chasing the wrong things. Interestingly enough, when we chase things other than God, we can never seem to catch them. When we chase after God, God allows us to catch the perfect relationship that is God. So if you feel like you are always chasing, chasing with the confidence of human ability, but never catching up, perhaps your confidence has been misplaced.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Philippians 2 --Ambition and Humility

Chapter 2 continues the run on catch phrases. Unfortunately that seems to be how many in the church today view the scriptures, as a collection of catch phrases. That is a topic for another time and another place. Today I want to focus on one of the many catch phrases contained in the defined area of Philippians 2.

Paul encourages us to, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should not look only to your own interests, but also the interests of others."(vs. 3-4). Ambition is what jumps off the page at me. Through the centuries many have thought, because of this portion of scripture, it not appropriate for a follower of Christ to have ambition. Clearly that is not what the passage says. There is an important qualifier there, selfish. The prohibition is not on ambition, it is on the wrong direction of ambition. When we look at Paul himself we find a very ambitious man. We also get the sense of a man who is not focused on his greatness, but the furthering of the Kingdom of God. Paul is not ambitious for Paul, rather for the work of God. We are all to be ambitious, as individuals and as a community of God.

In the midst of being ambitious it is crucial to remember our station in life. This is not a matter of status, such as economic or job level. This not a matter of race, or anything other than remembering we are the children of God, and not God. That is the beginning of humility. Jesus was well aware that while on the earthly pilgrimage, he was yes fully God, but a God who had chosen to be limited. Jesus remembered on earth he was like us, a child of God. With that foundation it is easier, not easy, to put down the comparison game and simply follow after God. Our measure is not against another person, rather it is to God. Therefore we can view others as people on the journey with us instead of people racing against us. It is hard to put the needs of another ahead of your own, if there is a sense of competition.

We are called to be people of ambition. It is to be a humble ambition, seeking to see the work of God further extended. It is ambition that takes the eyes off of self and focuses them on God.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Philippians 1 -- Catch Phrase Alley

Here is Philippians we come across what I will call catch phrase alley. This is a section of scripture that has come of the more common phrases thrown around the church world. The one who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it, and to live is Christ and to die is gain are two of the more famous quotations. This morning the former is sticking in my mind.

The One who began a good work in you is faithful to complete the work. For me this morning that is good news. God is doing some really great things in my life and ministry right now. While being excited I have also had a troubling thought hanging in the back of my mind, can I see this through? A question that begins to have some interesting answers. On one hand the answer is yes, I can see it through. On the other hand the answer is no. I am not a fan of these answers. The issue here is who is at work?

Sure there is effort we must all put forward, but note what the verse says, the One who began a good work in you. It does not say the good work that we began, no it focuses on God. More specifically the work God is doing in us. It is not our work, it is the work God is doing in us. So I cannot complete the work, however, God will complete the work through me. Only through the wisdom and grace of God am I able to accomplish anything. Only when I remember my role am I able to see the work come to completion.

This verse holds truth for the journey of an individual, as well as the ministry and mission given to a person. The work God has begun will be seen to completion. Our role is to be obedient, follow and trust the work of God.

Monday, March 9, 2009

1 Corinthians 16 -- Set Aside

As Paul finishes this letter to the church in Corinth it includes some of the normal pieces. Greetings to and from others. A couple of last encouragements, and challenges. Finally a good bye. At the beginning of the section Paul refers to the collection for the saints. This is the collection being taken to support the work of the Elders, Peter, James etc., back in Jerusalem. In many ways this is directly linked to the regular work of tithing. The concept of tithing in nothing new to the first century. The people of God had been in covenant with God since the promise of Abraham to give to God what is God's. At a minimum, the first and best ten percent.

I find it fascinating how Paul recommends this happen. He says on the first day of the week, set aside a portion of your income, in relation to what your income is, to be given for the work of God. The connotation here is this is the first thing you do with your money for the week. to put it in our context, the first check you write should be what you set aside for God. How often do we wait until the last day of the week to see what is leftover. We are not in the practice of setting aside, rather we are in the practice of wait and see. Rather than set aside, we would rather buy that extra cup of coffee, or go out to lunch rather than skip it.

I wonder what life would be like if that was how God worked with us? What if God waited to see what would be leftover at the end of the week? Sure God would want to bless us more and more, but the risk of running out of blessings is too high. What if God gives a blessing first and someone squanders it? What if God gives a blessing first, and runs out by Wednesday? It seems as though that is a chance God is willing to take.

Setting aside for God is not a financial issue. In fact it has very little to do with account balances. This is an issue of trust. Do we really trust God will provide, or do we think we must do that? The amount of time, energy, effort, resources and money we set aside for God is directly proportional to the amount we trust God.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

1 Corinthians 15 -- I am what I am

There is a lot of great stuff in this chapter. I love the discussion about the resurrection, I love the victory of Christ over death, yet there is another portion that grabs my attention. Paul says, by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me is not without effect.

The first portion is often quoted to justify short comings. It is easy to utter the words, I am what I am by the grace of God, shrug our shoulders and keep going. This is a passage that has been used by myself and others to justify many harmful things. The problem is we are only reading and applying a small portion of the passage. First we confuse the order of the words, might seem small but it is a big deal. The grace of God is what leads in the passage, not us. The grace of God is at work in our lives, whether we realize it or not. Because the grace of God is at work our lives take on a shape and a form. We are who we are because of God's grace.

My favorite part of this passage comes next and is often totally forgotten or lost. His grace to me has not been without effect. A quick translation is, my life has been transformed because of God's grace. No longer am I who I use to be. In Paul's case this means, no longer does he persecute the church of Christ, rather he is giving his whole life to build it up. Paul is who he is because of the grace of God which has transformed his life.

How about you? We all live in grace. Some recognize it and others are not yet convinced. If you recognize God's grace in your life has it had an effect on your life? Are you transforming because of God's grace, or are you justifying your life with grace?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

1 Corinthians 14 -- Women

In this chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul looks at the use of spiritual gifts, in particular the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy. More over, Paul instructs on their use in the context of the a gathering of the church. A simple rule to follow, it is builds up the church speak, if it confuses the church, don't speak. The portion I want to focus on has more to do with gender issues.

In this chapter Paul makes one of his famous proclamations regarding women in the church. The basic quote is that women should be silent in church. Many people have read this an thought they have been faithful to God in applying this teaching with great rigidity. The problem is when a person reads all of the writings attributed to Paul, we get a different picture. Even in Corinthians where the letter is initiated by the people at Chloe's house church. Other places in scripture tell of women leading the people of God when the men were fouling it up pretty good. An argument could be made that Mary Magdalene was more than a follower of Jesus, that she was studying under him to become a Rabbi. So what is Paul's issue?

The short answer I have no idea. I am however convinced that we cannot take a few verses and pluck them out of context to create an overarching rule. Followers of Jesus must invest the time in studying the whole story, not just certain parts. In the case of women in the church, the time has come to read the whole story, and move forward with grace and humility.

Paul often gets a bad wrap when it comes to issues related to women. If we read a verse here and there it is justified. If we read all of the work a different picture emerges.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

1 Corinthians 13 -- Perfection

This is often called the love chapter, or to some it is the wedding chapter. A majority of weddings held in a church context have some portion of this chapter read. No matter how much the true context and meaning of the verses is taught, people like it because it talks about love. So what is really happening here is chapter 13?

Yes there is the discussion about what love is and what love is not. There is the discussion about how many of the great measures of our journey mean nothing if we are not loving. What the chapter really points to is found in the last little portion. The focus is on the perfection that is to come. How all our understandings on this side of the grave are less than perfect. Even our best intentions are flawed. I love the imagery Paul uses of the mirror. We see life, but it is a clouded picture.

To steal from Tina Turner, what's love got to do with it? For as much are the passage is about the love we have, it is even more about the love God has for us. It is not our ability to love which makes the imperfect, perfect. Interestingly, our inability to love causes the view of life we have to become more and more cloudy. Still it is the love God has for us, as shown through Jesus Christ that we can experience love and give love to others. It is through the work of Christ that when it is all said and done, when we run the race through, we will see perfectly through the love of God.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

1 Corinthians 12 -- The Body

Here is chapter 12 Paul addresses the issue of spiritual gifts. Not wanting people to be ignorant regarding this important part of the Body of Christ. In this chapter there are two lists of gifts given, and can mistakenly be seen as a comprehensive list. Rather, they are merely tools to talk about the different ways we are created and gifted by God. Hence the discussion on the parts of the body.

For the most part we can read the chapter and walk away with a sense if understanding. There is a strong possibility we will walk away with an appreciation for the diversity in the church. Still there is a great danger. The danger is to recognize the diversity and think the individual as better than another because of the role we fulfill. That is to say, we recognize we need all the parts, yet we do not make room for all the parts. Our thinking can deteriorate to a place of calling for diversity, as long as we all think the same about it.

I see this most commonly when we talk about connecting with God through the spiritual disciplines. Each of us has a way in which we connect best with God, and we can think it is The best way to connect with God. The reality is, when we limit everyone else to our experience of God, our God is too small. The great challenge of the church today is everyone has an opinion of how others should connect with God, and when the church offers alternative options, people get nervous.

Over and over 1 Corinthians 12 is read. Repeatedly people affirm the diversity in the body as necessary, yet ignore it in how they live. I wonder if we like the words of 1 Corinthians more than we like the practice of those words.

Monday, March 2, 2009

1 Corinthians 11-- Order

For those who know me I am not really know as a person who is picky about the order of things in worship. Meaning, I think there are a lot of right ways to do things which connect with God. In this section of 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses two areas of order in the church. First has to do with the relationship of women, men and the church, the second deals with the time of Holy Communion.

The relationship of women, men and the church is always a difficult conversation. In many fellowships and gatherings, a strict, and some would say faulty, reading of the scriptures is applied and women are not allowed to speak, much less teach or pray out loud at church. Others allow for prayer, but never to teach or preach, except in the crucial place of Sunday School. Still others place no restrictions on the ministry of any person. The classic question begs to be asked, who is right? The reality can be found in not asking who is right, but what does the whole of the Scriptures teach us. Even as I read this passage of 1 Corinthians, see there is much more openness than usually allowed for. When I broaden the reading to include the Bible as a whole, I see women in leadership, preaching and teaching roles throughout. It is popular to select a few passages here and there to support a limited view. Many who do so would claim to be 'biblical' when in fact it is only selectively biblical. I know this understanding well as I have been there. For a time in my journey I did not feel it was 'biblical' for women to be pastors, leaders and teachers in the church. A careful reading of the whole text however, transformed that view and highlighted a narrow reading of the scriptures.

What matters is keeping our relationship connection with God the fullest possible. This is not a gender thing, rather it is a discipleship thing. If a person is maintaining a deepening, and fervent connection with God, who are we are humans to say they are qualified or not?

As for the matter of Communion. Paul uses a lot of words to say, this is not ordinary meal. Additionally, this is not a meal for individuals only, it is a community meal. This meal is to be taken seriously, and a persons relationship with God should be examined before sharing in the meal. The caution is to not make this an empty ritual or a matter of status. Holy communion is a time to meet with God, and connect with the grace offered through Jesus Christ.

Order matters, as long as we do not becomes slaves to the order and lose site of the God who stands in the midst of it. The claim of order has done much harm, and much good. In all things we must seek to meet with God above all else.