Only One risen Saviuor

Only One risen Saviuor
There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved - Jesus

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

1 Corinthians Day 60 - Brace Yourself 2.0

10:12 Wherefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

Allow me to share with you a part of the song they sang in praise to God right after they crossed the Red Sea:

“11  Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?

Who is like You, glorious in holiness,

Fearful in praises, doing wonders?

12  You stretched out Your right hand;

The earth swallowed them.

13  You in Your mercy have led forth

The people whom You have redeemed;

You have guided them in Your strength

To Your holy habitation."

That happened before all the bad/sad stuff we have been looking at the last few days. How could they praise Him so highly and then accuse Him of taking them into the desert to die? 

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The truth is that following that group from Egypt to Canaan is like riding a roller coaster. They are up, way up. Then they go down, way down. God is the best and then He is the worst. 


There is a clue in their song of praise above. They sang "Who is like you O Lord among gods...?" Lord among gods? What gods? Don't they know there is only one God? Apparently not. 

Paul's warning to Corinth was simple: "When you think you have the world by the tail watch out, or you will flop on your face."

Again why? How could they go so quickly from praising to murmuring, from dancing to cursing? Do we do that? Yes we do and here is the answer to why. It's going to be hard to hear but it's the truth and Jesus said the truth will set us free.

People that go up and down like a roller coaster between faith and despair are people who worship their circumstances rather than worshipping God. Ouch. When times are good we are happy with God and when times are tough we turn on Him like a raging bull. When times are good we throw Him a thank you and go back to life as usual. He may not hear from us for weeks or months or... but when a crisis comes His phone never stops ringing. We ask Him where He is. We accuse Him of abandoning us. We of course don't really want Him. We just want Him to right the ship of our circumstances so we can go back to what we were doing. Ouch.

It's easy to feel invincible when all is going as planned and there isn't a cloud in sight. People admire us. Boss promotes us. Friends are drawn to us. Life is good. Watch out says Paul. The Israelites were riding high, singing and dancing and bragging about their God. Three days later they turned on Him like a pack of wolves on a wounded deer. That's right. 3 days. 72 hours. Mountain top to the depths of despair. Want a quote?

"And the people complained..." 

There is a better way to live. There is a more authentic way to worship. It won't make the headlines. It may not draw a crowd. At times people may even pity or mock you for being a fool. However none of that can rob you of the "peace that passes understanding."

Do you know what the peace that passes understanding is? It's peace that is unaffected by circumstances. It's an Outlook that doesn't lurch from crisis to crisis or swing from mountain tops to dark valleys. 

Have you ever grown a garden? Ever grown a garden in a dry summer? The leaves wilt or burn or both. Nothing thrives. Little or nothing is produced. Some plants even die. Did you ever notice that while your garden suffers the trees are fine? Do you know why? Gardens grow on the surface. Their roots are shallow. Too little rain and they die. Too much rain and they drown. Circumstances are everything. Trees are a different story. They don't drown when it rains too much and they don't wilt when it doesn't rain enough. They have deep roots. Roots that are fed by a source unaffected by the ups and downs on the surface.

So how is it with us? Are we rooted in God or in the shallow ebb and flow of life? Those rooted in God know it won't always rain just the right amount. Sometimes it won't rain at all. Jesus said "In this world you will have trouble..." Truth. It's much better than the empty sentimental rooted in nothing platitudes of "Everything will be ok." No sometimes nothing will be ok. Sometimes your best friends will deny they even know you. Sometimes the people who stood beside you singing God's praises will turn around and m stab you in the back. Sometimes your best friend will die too soon and your other friends will ask "Where is your mighty God now?"

All of that and worse happened to Jesus. How did He react? He said "Father forgive them, they don't know..."

Monday, 27 February 2017

1 Corinthians Day 59 - Brace Yourself

10:11 Now all these things happened to them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

There was little that was normal about the life experiences of the people who journeyed from Egypt to Canaan through the wilderness. Few people live through such unusual circumstances. Several years ago I had the privilege of pastoring a sweet lady who grew up in Königsberg until the war started. She was young. Her flight from the Russians and the Nazis was surreal. A movie could have been made of her life. To live through such circumstances is unusual although many in Syria today and other war torn countries could easily relate.

Why do I bring this up? Because Paul brought it up. Paul wrote that the strange events that marked the journey from Egypt to Canaan were written down as examples. They were for our admonition. Why us? Who is us? Why did Paul include himself in there? Was he speaking of the people living then? Was he speaking of the future end of the world? Yes and yes.

Did you notice the plural form of end? Paul did not write about the "end of the world", he wrote about the "ends of the world."

Can the world have more than one end? Apparently it can. If you search a world map for Königsberg you will not find it. It is gone. That place came to an end. It exists in the memory of those who lived there but it's gone. That sweet lady tried to return. About fifty years after her flight from her home and homeland she returned for a visit. She told me she wept like a baby. She even had tears in her eyes as she told me the story. She returned to the geographic location but Königsberg was gone.

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I grew up on a retired farm. We rented the land to the neighbouring farm. We played in the barn. Built hay forts. Started to build a cabin that never got finished. Fished in the pond. Played in the brook. Hung out with dad in his shop. Every day ended the same no matter what the day contained. We went home. Last summer I was invited to speak at camp meeting in Quebec very near my childhood home. We took a drive. The shop is gone. It's just a field. The barn too. The house. It's all gone. Just fields like no one ever lived there at all. The end has come. Nearly 200 years my family had roots in that place and now the end has come.

Königsberg is gone. My childhood home is gone. So many places, even entire empires have vanished into history. Indeed there is more than one end to world in certain sense. The Jewish temple has been gone for almost 2000 years. It was the immediate end Paul was likely referring to. Judaism came to an end of sorts. The new Christian movement he was a huge part of didn't end but it certainly went through a very dark and trying time where others tried to end it even more zealously than he had before his conversion.

So let's bring it full circle. Paul wrote that the experiences of those wilderness wanderers was written down for us. They are examples. They are for our admonition. They speak specifically to those who experience some kind of end.

There is much I could say here. Honestly when I read this passage earlier this morning and asked God to teach me from it my mind went in so many directions. So many things have come or are coming to an end. The lessons and applications could fill a book or more. This morning I don't have the time or space to unwrap them all but He has focused me on one aspect that applies to all of us in all ages.

The people who left Egypt were slaves. They truly believed that the source of all their troubles was their bondage. God intervened. He had promised to Abraham 400 years earlier that He would and He did. They were set free. Never again did a whip cross their back. Never again did a taskmaster beat them or humiliate them or rape them or treat them like an animal. They were free. Their troubles were over...

If it were a movie and the credits rolled just after the Red Sea swallowed the Egyptian army we could perhaps believe that. However that's not what happened. Trouble found them in the desert far from their cruel masters. The end of one set of troubles was the beginning of a new set. Demons without gave way to their demons within. Now that they were free from outside forces of trouble they were left to face the troubles that existed within them. In no particular order they were: fear, insecurity, jealousy, control issues, distorted thinking (life was good in Egypt, let's go back), trust issues, lust issues, and the list goes on.

One world of pain and suffering ended only to open up to a new and different one. 

Paul was writing to new Christians. They had left one world of idol worship and superstition and entered the Christian world. One life had ended and a new one was beginning. That's what Paul was really talking about. Navigating that change is huge but they weren't alone. it wasn't a path that hadn't been traveled before. Others have gone before us. Their experiences were written down. We can fumble along blindly or we can learn from them. We can fall in the traps some of them fell in or we can follow their journey, recognize the danger zones and avoid them.

The greatest delusion, the most distorted thoughts we entertain are the ideas that my struggles are rooted in external forces. If I had a better political situation, a better boss, a more functional family, a better wife, or a better life I'd be ok. The real enemy is within. When Egypt is a memory and we're alone with God in "the desert" the struggle has not ended because the struggle is within. Adam and Eve lived in the perfect setting so they blamed God and each other. The real problem was within. 

God's greatest desire is to put an end to the kingdom of darkness that rages within us while we are all preoccupied with the raging around us. Jesus had to live in this messed up world. He was not whisked away. No sea swallowed His enemies. Yet He lived a life of love. Peace reigned inside Him. The external storms raged but had no impact on him. 

That's what I want. A peace no sword can take from me, no politics can rob me of, no circumstance can steal from me.

We have examples. Let's learn where the real enemy is. Let's ask the Deliverer to conquer that stronghold. Let's get to the root and stop worrying about the fruit. 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

1 Corinthians Day 58 - The Murmurers

10:10 Neither murmur, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.

It's hard to say which specific incident is being referred to here but likely it was Korah's rebellion when he and others felt they were more qualified to lead than Moses was.
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The Old Testament has some dark events and as a result of those God often gets a bad rap. I am often shocked at how man Christians feel the God of the Old Testament is harsh, even eager to destroy. It seems like they willfully forget the amazing stories of patience and mercy in there as well. They also forget the context surrounding the dark stories. A third factor that really makes the Old Testament misunderstood is that the people themselves had a dark picture of God. They understood Him to be like the angry pagan gods and spoke of Him often in those terms. Even Abraham when talking to Him about Sodom and no Gomorrah repeatedly said "Please don't be angry but let me speak once more..." Where did he ever get the idea that God gets and angry when we gave questions or concerns? If Eve had taken her questions and concerns to God in the beginning we might not be in this mess.

Now whichever incident Paul had in mind the pattern was always the same: Murmuring preceded punishment. First we need to understand that murmuring is not asking a question. Murmuring in the context of the wilderness journey was open rebellion. Korah knew that Moses was the man God had chosen. From birth his story was a miraculous one. When he returned from Midian to lead the people out of Egypt God supported his words and story with miracles. There could be no rational doubt about who the leader was. He was appointed by God.

You may remember the questions that arose when Aaron was appointed the High Priest. The Bible does not tell us but I'm sure a doubt or two crossed Moses' mind too about this choice. After all this was the same Aaron that built the golden calf. Hardly seemed like the résumé for the highest spiritual leader of the nation. The concern was so great that Moses took the matter to God. Note that God acknowledged the concern and offered a solution. Each tribe chose a man they thought would be a better candidate than Aaron. Like a game of pick up hockey they all threw their sticks into the pile. God told Moses to leave them all inside the Sanctuary overnight and in the morning it would be obvious who was the man of God’s choosing.

You likely know the story. In the morning the other 11 sticks were still sticks (staffs). Aaron's stick had leaves, buds, and fully ripe almonds on it! 

Why do I tell this story? There is a great difference between asking a genuine question or having a legitimate concern and an act of murmuring rebellion. The former God honours. The latter places us with our father.

What do I mean? Note who did the destroying of the murmurers. It wasn't God. They were destroyed by their own master. They were destroyed by the original murmuring rebel. Their sin was the same and so was their end.

God loves us but His love cannot rescue us from willful persistent open defiant rebellion. To murmur is to say we know better than God and would do a better job if He would let us. The very fact He has to let us proves who God is and who we are and if He did hand us His scepter do you know what the results would be? We are living them. Satan was handed the scepter for one planet. He had one place and one people to demonstrate how much superior he is to God. 

I don't know about you but I'm not liking the results at all. Some day soon this planet is going back into the hands of the One who created it and us and the Murmurer will be no more.

1 Corinthians Day 57 - Snake Worship Part 2

10:9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.

So the ancient Israelites are weary of their journey and the complaints start. Moses is incompetent. God has lead them to the desert to die. In the middle of their ranting snakes start literally attacking them. First it's just one, and then a few, and soon they seem to be everywhere. In fear and desperation they cry out to Moses. They plead with him to ask God to save them from the snakes. Moses prays but the answer is weird. I'm pretty sure Moses hesitated. "Lord you want me to do what?!!"

"Make a serpent from brass and hang it on a pole. Tell the people to look at it and anyone who looks at it will be healed from the venomous bites."

"But You told us not to make any images or idols..."

It's a weird story... or is it?

Serpent = Satan

Satan means accuser. The people allowed Satan into their thoughts. He played on their feelings. Soon their voices became his voice. The voice of accusation. 

In Eden he accused God of being a liar. Now he is accusing God of being incompetent and the people believe him just as Eve did. The same God who freed them from Egypt is incompetent? The same God who opened and then closed the Red Sea doesn't know what He is doing? The same God who rains down food every morning and supplies water in the desert can't get them through the desert? It's crazy talk but when we allow the combination of unpleasant circumstances and the whisperings of the serpent to combine we end up talking crazy. We end up embracing his lies which always lead to death.

In their desperation they cried out to the very One they had just accused of not knowing what He was doing. His solution was to become a devil worshipper? 

On the surface it looks that way. 

The Bible says "He who knew no sin became sin for us." The One who never once fell for the whisperings of the serpent became the serpent for us. All the venom we took in He took in. Then they lifted Him up on a pole thinking He was defeated. 

Jesus said "I, if I be lifted up, I will draw the whole world to Myself."

The instruction in Numbers 21, as the snakes were attacking them, was simple - "Look and live".

No one needed to die. There was a cure. The spotless One became the very disease that was killing us. All we have to do is look and live. 

I believe God purposely made the cure strange so that everyone would scratch their heads and wonder about it. It was just one more way to tell the same Old Story. Look and live. Many sins. One Saviour. So simple. 

John 6:29

See you tomorrow :)

Friday, 24 February 2017

1 Corinthians Day 56 - Snake Worship?

10:9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.

Another brief reference to a tragic incident on their journey from Egypt to the promised land.

Last night I was talking to a friend and she told me of a time a friend of hers asked her to explain her beliefs. They sat down and she opened her Bible to the Old Testament. Immediately her friend interrupted and said "I'm sorry but I don't believe the Old Testament. I'm a New Testament Christian. This thinking is not new or unique to this woman. There are entire Christian churches who hold to this idea. Here is the problem. Without the Old Testament there wouldn't be a New. Furthermore much of the New makes no sense without the Old. The writers of the New Testament who were willing to die for Jesus and understood as well or better than we do who He was and is had only the Old Testament. They quoted from it and took examples from it repeatedly. How can we come along now and say it needs to be thrown away?

Once I met with a couple who was struggling because one of them had been married before but their spouse had died. The source of the struggle were the memories. The one who lost their spouse often shared those memories and it hurt the other. They felt as if they were being compared or couldn't measure up or existed to give life to a memory. While it is critical to never expect anyone to be someone they are not or to replace someone else it is equally critical to realize you can't erase someone's past. It is part of them, as much a part of them as the present. You can never truly know a person if you refuse to explore the oath that brought them to where they are.

Is the Old Testament hard to stomach in places? Yes it is. But you know what? So is some of my own past. It has dark chapters. Times when I was far from God and as a result far from Godly. Can I disown those parts now that I am in a new chapter? I think some people might find that a little less than honest. But there is another reason to keep the past with us as we grow and move forward. It is a powerful teaching tool.

That's what Paul is doing here in chapter 10. He is telling the Corinthians that they can look back and see the results of bad choices. Why blaze a trail of destruction in ignorance when history has already exposed the path for what it is? The Old Testament is often dark precisely because they were in darkness. They never had the opportunity to know Jesus as we have had. They never knew all that we know. Consequently they made some choices we don't need to make. We have both Jesus and their example. 

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So what happened with serpents? I thought you'd never ask :)

The story is in Numbers 21. The people had become weary of the tough miserable trek through the desert. A trek that was only necessary because of their fear and lack of faith. A journey that could have been short in distance and time had they trusted God. The route could have been as easy one as well rather than traveling across the wilderness. It was their poor choices that created the misery and even in it God sustained them with miracle food and provided water as needed. None of this prevented their complaints and it all came to a boil again. They cried out to God and Moses, blaming them for leading them into the wilderness to die.

In the midst of their complaining poisonous snakes came into the camp and the people were being bitten and dying. They cried out to the same man (Moses) and God that moments before they deemed incompetent and useless. God told Moses to do something really strange. He told him to make a snake from brass and mount it on a pole. Then he told Moses to tell the people to look at the pole and they would live. 

Tomorrow we'll talk about why...

Thursday, 23 February 2017

1 Corinthians Day 55 - Sad Warning

10:8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.

It could take pages and days to break down the story referenced here or it can be summed up very quickly. In a sentence it goes like this: "We are a far greater threat to ourselves than any external force or threat is."

There was a temple in Corinth to the goddess Venus. More than 1000 priestesses worked there. They were prostitutes in the name of religion. False religion is often just a front for sins of all kinds, especially sexual sin. Because sexual sin was so rampant in Corinth it was affecting the church. They had been born and raised amidst the corruption. 

In warning them through examples from the past Paul references a little known story from Numbers 25. Leading up to the event described there the king of Moab was trying to curse Israel through a prophet who was willing to accept money to do this work. Of course no one can curse what God has blessed so the prophet's efforts were futile. In the end though he told the king there was a far better way to destroy Israel - get them to destroy themselves. The king seized the idea and sent an invitation for Israel to attend a feast. A feast that ended just like the worship of the golden calf ended. In his commentary on this, Matthew Henry wrote:
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"If Balak had drawn out his armed men against them to fight them, Israel would have bravely resisted, and no doubt had been more than conquerors; but now that he sends his beautiful women among them, and invites them to his idolatrous feasts, the Israelites basely yield, and are shamefully overcome: those are smitten with his harlots that could not be smitten with his sword."

People can say and believe as they wish but science has proven that a monogamous heterosexual relationship poses no health risk yet all forms of sex outside those parameters can be dangerous and even deadly. 

All sin leads either quickly or slowly to our destruction. I believe that sometimes God permits the consequences to be swift in order to warn those who still haven't made a full commitment to evil.

There are two great accusations against God. The first is that if He is so loving why is world such a mess. The second is the criticism He receives when He punishes evil. The inconsistency between these two accusations is obvious. God wants us all to choose life. If we choose sin we will die either quickly or slowly because even if God never intervened all sin is destructive. 

The evil within us is a greater threat than any external force. Let Jesus in. Let His Spirit fill you so that evil has no space.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

1 Corinthians Day 54 - Let's Think

10:5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.

6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.”

We all have desires. We all have things we crave. What I'm going to say next will not be popular but that does not make it less true. Cravings are generally evil. Healthy things do not cause cravings to a level where the craving controls us. Many foods are delicious but not all are healthy. However if we are honest it is the unhealthy foods that are addictive, not the healthy ones. When was the last time you heard of someone with an out of control addiction to strawberries or stir-fry? Any desire that controls you is evil yet the ability for a desire to control us must be granted. It can become an overpowering addiction only after we grant the permission.

Image result for reason frontal lobe1 Corinthians 10 is a series of brief references to incidents that happened during Israel's journey from Egypt to Canaan. The incident referenced today was when they thought Moses was dead and built a golden calf god/idol to replace him. When the idol was finished they proclaimed a feast and the description of that worship/feast is described by the singular verse that Paul quoted. "They sat down to eat and drink and they rose up to play."

Already they had to suppress their reason to even consider the golden blob shaped like a calf was anything more than a golden blob shaped like a calf. The reason they wanted it to be more is because idols are convenient. They create the illusion of following God while really being a servant to our own desires. Idols can't talk. They can't act or react. They are puppet gods. They tell us to do what we tell them to tell us to do. In other words we are god. 

Another submission of their reason was the effect of the crowd. People will do things in a group they would never do on their own. That's how riots happen. A few bold ones start and the crowd gets swept up in the emotion of the moment. It was only a few that proposed the idea of the golden calf but once the ball got rolling everyone got on board. 

First they ate and drank. Eating too much and drinking both contribute to a further dumbing down of our reasoning powers, especially the drinking part. As part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church we discourage any drinking of alcohol but I did not grow up in a bubble. I saw first hand what happens to people when the alcohol takes over. Inhibitions are lost. Reason is lost. 

After they sat down to eat and drink they rose up to play. That word in the Hebrew can mean caressing. It has sexual connotations. Isaac and Rebekah were seen "playing" and in that context it was clearly sexual. I believe it was sexual here as well. One Bible commentator said they gave way to licentiousness which is old English for promiscuous and reckless/unprincipled sexual behaviour. Think about that. Thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people who have surrendered reason to their cravings. Where were the children? 

Paul is asking us to consider the choices of those who have gone before us. They did suffer from a lack of knowledge. It wasn't that they weren't sure if God existed or cared about them. They just had strong desires and step by step they pushed aside their reason until they were behaving like animals.

The text says God was not pleased with them and so they were laid low in the wilderness. Sin is like cancer. Egypt was already rotten to the core even though they were at one time followers of the One True God. Because of the degradation God had to take those who would give Him a chance out of that place. Now that they were free many chose their desires over Him and longed to return. 

I love that about God. We are always free to return. Sin becomes a slave master but God never enslaves anyone. He sets us free to choose Him or reject Him and if we reject Him we spiral back into the slavery of our self-destructive desires.

Look at our culture today. The right blames the left and the left blames the right. The religious blame those who are not and those who are not blame those who are. We all know something is wrong but are convinced it is someone else's fault. Every election we try and choose another hero hoping this one can bring us back to the good old days. Don't be a fool. Good days are never an accident. They are the result of hard work and a principled life. I know a woman in her 80's who is far more productive and happy than people half her age. She works. She helps others. She serves. She gets up everyday with plans to do things that will make the world a better place.

Meanwhile more and more of us are foolishly pursuing ever elusive happiness by giving in to our desires. It shows in the increasing number of broken homes and broken lives. God is not laying us low. We are doing it to ourselves. 

The morning after the night before always comes. Choose God. Choose life. Choose true happiness. Today if you hear His voice do not harden your heart like they did in the rebellion...

1 Corinthians Day 53 - A History Lesson Begins

10:1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.

And so begins a sad chapter. Paul is committed to running the race and finishing strong but not everyone is. Tracing the history of his people he begins to show that it's more than possible to drop out of the race.

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The Israelites were slaves in Egypt and God sent Moses to lead them in the race to freedom. Jesus Himself made sure they knew that their deliverance was supernatural. It was possible to explain away the plagues as some kind of series of flukes. Perhaps nature just got out of balance for a bit. Maybe it was a magic trick of some sort. Maybe it was all just coincidence. However when they got to the Red Sea and it opened and closed for them while destroying the entire Egyptian army they knew this was not humanly explainable. On top of that a mysterious pillar of cloud went ahead of them all day and then became a pillar of fire at night. Clearly God was leading them. 

Paul describes these supernatural manifestations of God a baptism. They were literally immersed in His presence. They were fully submerged in what He was doing. Sadly for most of them it had no personal effect. They saw and experienced what He was doing but it made no internal change.

The same happened well over a thousand years later when Jesus came to earth as one of us. The children of Israel saw Him. They touched Him. They observed miracles. They could clearly see He was no ordinary man. Even the weather submitted to Him. Yet most people were not impacted in any meaningful way. They "passed through the water", dried off and kept on living as if they had never seen Him. 

Are we the same or different? Is His presence in our lives and the evidence of His reality drawing us and changing us or are we passing by as if He does not really exist? Paul entered the stream of what God was doing. His life was a continual offering to God. He lived by Him and for Him. 

Are we in the race or just spectators? Are we walking with Jesus or just letting Him walk by? 

Monday, 20 February 2017

1 Corinthians Day 52 - Running the Race

9:24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Paul uses the comparison between sports and the Christian life more than once. He compares living for Jesus to running a race and his point is that we should live and act as though we are athletes in training. There are three main parallels that he draws:

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1, Run to win. Following Jesus is not a hobby. It's not one of many pursuits. It is not a weekend diversion or an intermittent obsession that we pick up and lay aside and pick up again. Jesus is not to be part of our life. He is to be our life. Run to win. Pursue Him relentlessly. Follow Him closely. 

2, Self-control. It needs to be made clear here that self-control is not the exercise of the will. You can't develop self-control any more than an Ethiopian can change his skin or a leopard his spots. Self-control is a gift, a fruit of the Spirit. It increases as we follow. Like a muscle it grows with use. Self-control applies to everything. The words that come out of our mouth are either controlled or reckless. Jesus never spoke a flippant or hurtful word. I wish I could say the same. However it must also be restated here that we are not saved by how perfect we become. Repeatedly Paul referred to this messed up church in Corinth as saints, as sanctified, as fully His. The growth that comes from a relentless pursuit of Jesus does two things. First it makes us less likely to pull a Judas and turn back. Second it makes us more fit to help others find Jesus. We need self-control in every area of our lives and with time spent with and for Jesus it will increase and our ability to "run" will also increase.

3, Living with purpose. Paul wrote that he ran with aim and boxed with intention. He wasn't aimless in his run and swinging at nothing when he boxed. His direction was firm and his aim precise.

Think about Jesus. He more than Paul or anyone else lived with purpose. One day as he approached Samaria with his disciples he took note that a woman was at the well alone at noon. Jesus was always watching. His surroundings were known by Him. The expression on faces was noted by Him. Body language was analyzed. Jesus lived with purpose. When He saw her He knew something in her life was way off because women didn't typically gather water alone and never in the heat of the day.

Without saying why he sent everyone who was with him into the village to get food; a job that could have easily been accomplished by two of them. He knew the issues that needed to be discussed were intensely personal and he did not want to either hinder her from being open because of a crowd or expose her private business to more ears than necessary. Jesus lived with purpose.

It is a skill He can and wants to teach us. He wants us on duty for Him at all times. If we were in tune with Him and those around us we would have opportunities over and over to influence others for His kingdom. 

Athletes live with purpose. They exercise self-control, and they train and run to win. The beauty of the race to Jesus is that we can all win and will all win if we keep running. :)

Sunday, 19 February 2017

1 Corinthians Day 51 - Slaving for Free

9:15 But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. 16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. 17 For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. 18 What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

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Paul is by no means a boring individual. His life story is an amazing one. He was Jew of the Jews and made it his life mission as a young man to squash this Jesus uprising that threatened the Jewish faith. He actively imprisoned His followers and had some put to death. Then he met Jesus himself and everything changed. Ever after it was his mission to know Jesus and to make Him known. By the comments he makes his motivation to serve Jesus with his whole being was twofold. Not only did he genuinely love Him but was also driven by guilt for the things he had done to hurt His followers.

Here in 1 Corinthians 9 he declares it is his right as a minister of the gospel to receive wages but he refuses to take payment. Unfortunately this refusal was actually causing problems because some saw his passion and sacrifice and wondered why other ministers were "less committed". However for Paul that was never his intent. It was proper that they be paid for their work as it was proper for him to be paid as well but he wouldn't allow it. He wanted the gospel to be free. He dedicated his life to pioneer work. He entered places where there was no Christian presence and paid the foundation for churches to be born and the good news to spread.  

They say up to 15% of the population has a pioneering spirit. Certainly Paul did and he wanted the foundation laid on a bed of self-sacrifice so no one could say he entered their city to make a profit or for any benefit to himself. It was all about Jesus. 

How did he do it? How did he enter cities that worshipped idols and start churches dedicated to the One True God? He became all things to all people. It is a concept we struggle with. To some it seems compromising. To others it seems deceptive but done correctly it is neither. All Paul did was learn to relate to every kind of person, to see the world through their eyes and speak their "language". For some it was through helping them see through their own Jewish Scriptures that Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. For those under the law and trying to appease God by their good deeds he showed how Jesus is the perfect One, the spotless Lamb, our substitute. For those without law who feared restriction he showed that Jesus came to set the captives free but that abuse of our freedom in Christ actually leads to the worst kind of slavery and the law of sin and death. 

Paul studied every mind. He met them as they were. He learned to preach the Good News in language they could understand. He did it all for free so that no new believer and no enemy of the cross could accuse him of doing any of it for personal gain even though receiving a wage would have been completely correct. 

Meeting Jesus on a heart level changes a person. Paul was a free man but chose to be a slave of the Good News. :)

Saturday, 18 February 2017

1 Corinthians Day 50 - Team Work

9:8 "I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10 Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. 11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel."

It truly blows my mind that people can argue against the plain teachings of the Bible. If yesterday left any doubt it is gone now and truly never should have existed anyway. When God gave instruction for setting up Israel as a nation in the promised land He set one tribe apart as the priestly tribe. They were to not only operate the sanctuary and it's services but also the education system and be the spiritual leaders of the entire nation. They were given no land like the other tribes were. They were not to farm. Their full attention was to be given to their work as the spiritual leaders. How did they survive? Where did their food come from? Easy. The other eleven tribes supported them.

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In any system it is necessary for different people within the system to do different jobs in order for the entire system to work. Some might argue (and do) that it isn't fair that some (in this case preachers) live off the work of others. However this is not even true. In another letter Paul wrote "if you don't work, you don't eat". As in a family or a business or a summer camp or any system everyone must contribute but in different ways.

Take sales and marketing for example. A marketing department consumes cash. A sales department generates cash. The sales department could decide to go on their own. I mean why should they be sharing their profits with the guys that play on their computers all day and never make any money for the company? See the flawed logic? The sales guys generate money that supports the marketing guys who in turn create advertising that drives sales so they can make more money. In fancy terms it is a symbiotic relationship. 

In the body of Christ God has called some to be pastor/teachers and they live materially off the people while feeding them and leading them spiritually. If they heed the teachings they will live happier, healthier, and thus more productive lives which will make them better off than if they had no preacher to pay. 

God believes in team work. He also specializes in win/win situations. Just remember the most successful place to be in life is in the place God designed you for. Be content and recognize the privilege it is to contribute to the team. 

Friday, 17 February 2017

1 Corinthians Day 49 - Paid to Preach?

9:1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we not have a right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? 7 Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?

Well this is awkward... ;)
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Several years ago a visitor came to one of my churches and wanted to speak with me after. I had never met him before and never saw him again. My theory is that he had a lot of ground to cover with his free wisdom to share. Of the many topics he addressed the one he was most passionate about was preachers and money. He firmly believed no one should receive money for preaching the gospel. Ironically he asked for money when his preaching was over. :)

His basic point was that Jesus didn't get paid, grace is free, and no one should be profiting from it.

I will concede that if you only look at it from that angle a case could be made. However there are other angles.

First let's dispel the myth that Jesus did not receive money. We know He did because Judas was in charge of it. 

Secondly grace is not free. Follow the dusty footsteps of Jesus from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to the world and finally to the cross and tell me grace is free. When I was growing up my dad repeatedly said "Nothing is free in this world." He was only partially right. Nothing is free anywhere. When I receive a gift it is free for me but not free for the giver. Grace is free for us, but it cost a price I don't think we'll ever fully comprehend. The "utopian" idea that we can escape the topic of money and cost in the realm of the gospel is foolishness based either in sincere naivete or willful ignorance.

It seems this topic was hotly contested in Corinth and it's not hard to tell why. Remember there was a war over who was the best pastor/teacher. Some preferred Paul, others Apollos etc... Paul was by his own description a foundation builder. He would come into a place like Corinth or Athens or Philippi where there was little or no knowledge of Jesus and he would lay the foundation. Because there was no church body, no established group of believers it was impossible to expect payment. He may find a home to stay in and meals provided by a willing family which is already significant payment and he would subsidize his income by making and selling tents. He was what we call today a bivocational pastor. Part time in ministry and part time earning a living some other way. To get new work started this is necessary unless you have the support of a mission minded church or churches sending you financial support.

We have to remember money is a tool and money is not evil. It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.

So with that background information it's easy to see what happened in Corinth. Once the church got established Paul moved on and Apollos came. The church either decided to pay him or at least approached the subject and the controversy started. Paul never took money from us for preaching and teaching so why should he get paid?! 

Who better to comment on this than the guy who worked for free(ish)?

So Paul lays it out. A worker is worth his hire no matter the work. Simple. End of story. I imagine it was uncomfortable for some folks as this letter was read in church, especially those who used Paul to justify their position.

It does need to be said that there are some preachers who take way too much money to themselves. As the Bible says: By their fruits you will know them... Abuse of what is good and right does not change the fact it is good and right. Money is a tool and we should all be using whatever resources God has gifted to us to advance His kingdom of self-sacrificing love. :)

1 Corinthians Day 48 - I versus We

8:12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Whether we realize it or not we live in a very self-centered culture. Listen to advertising. The message is never a community focused one. It's almost always about the individual. You deserve better, you are worth it, you owe it to yourself, put yourself behind the wheel of a new truck today! The life of Jesus tells a very different story. He did not live for Himself. He did not use His gifts for His own advancement. He never used His superior knowledge to gloat or make others feel small. He had one consuming passion and that was to lift others higher.

A different spirit was riding up in Corinth in a subtle way. Those who were realizing that idols were a complete scam were becoming insensitive to those who didn't know it yet. 

Rather than give them time and space to grow and figure it out, they were being selfish. It was an attitude of "I know better and I'm going to do what I want and I don't care how it affects you!"

Imagine being a new Christian and believing Jesus is the best God among many and you have chosen to serve Him only because He is the Creator of all. You are in the market shopping and you refuse to buy the food you used to buy there because you know it was offered to the lesser gods. As you are shopping you see one of your fellow believers buy and eat the food. You are confused. Why did he do that? Doesn't he know better? If he can why can't I? Someone needs to say something! Do something! 

When you get an appropriate chance you speak to him. His response is almost rude. "Idols are meaningless so what difference does it make!??" Now you are hurt and even more confused. If idols are meaningless why is he eating food dedicated to them? He's betraying our Lord!

It's not hard to see how divisions started over that issue.

Notice Paul's simple solution: "I will never eat meat again if there is a chance it will make my brother stumble!" Paul's concern for his ill-informed fellow believer is greater than his right to do what he knows is perfectly fine to do.

A couple of years ago I sat at the feet of a preacher significantly younger than I but wiser. He was speaking about the challenges associated with pastoring multicultural churches. He had gone as a student missionary for a year to a different country and culture. Right away he figured out they had a different relationship with time. He would schedule an event or a meeting for a specific time and when the time came people would begin coming. Half an hour or more later people were still arriving. The strange part to him was that everyone refused to begin until everyone else had arrived. He couldn't understand. If the start time is 7 you start at 7. Finally he expressed his frustration. This of course was new and strange to them and they explained that you never start until everyone has arrived. It is an insult to the whole community to not wait until everyone is present. 

Now whether you agree with that cultural norm is not the point. The point was that in that culture the community was more important than the individual. Our culture is the opposite. When the Kyoto summit was held many years ago most countries agreed to change their practices for the good of the global impact on the environment. The United States refused to sign off on it. George W. Bush declared "The American lifestyle is not on trial." In more blunt terms "We are going to live as we please no matter the impact it may have on you."

Love is self-sacrificing. Love considers others above self. If my behaviour will hurt you I will change even though I know I wasn't technically doing anything wrong.

It wasn't a matter of meat and idols. It was a matter of caring about the impact our choices have on those around us.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

1 Corinthians Day 47 - Knowledge Should Never Breed Arrogance

8:7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.

9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Yesterday I told you we would come back to verses 1 to 3. I didn't quote them as part of today's Bible reading but the summary is that knowledge puffs up but love edifies.

Paul is contrasting two groups in this whole passage. One group has the knowledge that idols and gods are meaningless non existent entities created by human imagination. The second group does not have that knowledge. The rest of chapter 8 is Paul's counsel on how those "in the know" should act towards those not in the know. The strongest statement he makes is verse 2:

"And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know."

Sounds almost harsh. Here is why Paul had to even write on this topic and why he is being so bold. From what we can gather Christians who were "so knowledgeable" were going into the pagan temples and eating the food sacrificed to the idols to show the "nothingness" of it all. In their zeal and puffed up arrogance they forgot one basic thing. To those who really believed the gods were real this was confusing. Were Christians polytheists? For those new to the Christian faith was it ok to worship Jesus and the gods? 

Instead of teaching that the idols were nothing they were actually encouraging those who thought they were something to keep worshipping them.

Image result for knowledge humilityAgain the root is pride. They knew something that others didn't and wanted to show off their new status. Subtly hidden in all this is the message "I'm smarter than you, which makes me better than you." Why do we feel the need to elevate ourselves? Why do we feel the need to strut our imagined superiority because maybe we know something someone else doesn't? 

The need to strut and elevate self is rooted in insecurity. That’s why Paul almost harshly said "anyone who thinks he knows anything knows nothing yet as he ought to know". It is not about knowledge and anyone truly "in the know" would know this.

I have friends who know languages I don't know. Are they better than me because of it? I know a language many of my family and most of my friends don't. Does that make me better than them? I may be better off in some situations but better off and a better person are two vastly different things. Many religions and many religious people mistakenly believe that knowledge is superiority - that God favours those with more knowledge. Remember yesterday? To eat or not eat does not make us better or worse. Better off maybe but not better. Jesus said it isn't what goes into a person's mouth that defiles him but what comes out. What did He mean? He also said that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 

It is not what is in our head that makes us. It is what is in our hearts.

Here is the sad reality. If our security as a person and as a Christian is in what we know rather than Who we know life becomes a competition. We derive worth from knowing more than someone else and fear from knowing less than someone else. The truth is that in Christ we are all growing, we all know comparatively little and all are equal in His sight. We are not in competition with each other. We have no need to secure anything because Jesus has already secured our future 2000 years ago.

If you have knowledge that makes you better off share it with those who are ready to receive it and be gentle and merciful with those who are not. Arrogance and pride have no place in the heart of a Christian. Go to the cross. Hear your own voice crying "Crucify Him!!!" See the woman caught in adultery thrown at Jesus' feet naked and trembling. Feel the stone clutched in your hand ready to strike. Read the record of your sins in the sand. 

If you have any useful knowledge use it to heal, not harm.