Category: 1 Corinthians (page 1 of 16)

The Primary Command

Few things are as thrilling in sports as a tied NHL Stanley Cup playoff game in the third period.  Only overtime. And the Stars outlasted the Predators Monday night in an edge-of-your-seat overtime slugfest to advance to the second round. My heart has just now this morning returned to its normal rhythms. Overtime in an NHL playoff game is the only true “sudden death” in sports. And it’s incredible.

One of the great things about a Stars game on TV is the running color commentary provided by Daryl “Razor” Reaugh. Every 90-seconds or so during every single game, Razor says something that makes me giggle. The guy’s a genius. Monday night he referred to the Stars’ six-foot-seven goalie Ben Bishop as the “net-minding mastadon.” After a wild flurry of saves late in the second period, Razor called Bishop a “brilliant rubber regurgitator.” He described a save by Nashville’s goaltender as “a sassy glove grab.” When the game was over and the American Airlines Center crowd was celebrating the series win, Razor reminded all the TV viewers back home that “the singular of confetti is confetto.”

Their second round series against the Blues begins in St. Louis tomorrow night.

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The world expects Christians to show love. That’s why people rip into the Church and rail against us when we don’t show love. That’s why they criticize us.

People don’t cuss at the beach because it’s sandy; it’s supposed to be sandy. We don’t complain when rain is wet; it’s supposed to be wet. we don’t gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo; it’s supposed to blow. That’s what we expect. And the world expects followers of Jesus to love. So, they rightfully call us out when we don’t.

(Sometimes we gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo. Let’s be honest.)

Scripture tells us plainly that, for children of God and disciples of Christ, the primary command is to love. From the Old Testament law and prophets to Jesus and his apostles, loving other people is the primary response and the natural reflection of God’s love that’s been so undeservedly showered on us

According to the Bible, if you’re not a loving person, you don’t know God. If you’re not showing love to others, you haven’t truly received God’s love for yourself.

Nobody in the world will listen to you talk about God if they experience you as an unloving person. You’ve got no credibility. It’s obvious you don’t know who you’re talking about. At Texas Dodge, they don’t let their salespeople drive Fords or Chevys. The president of PETA doesn’t run the membership drive for the NRA. And you’re not going to influence anybody for Christ if you’re not a loving person. You’ll push people away.

The Church is fractured and our witness to the world is compromised because we keep getting this one thing out of order. Instead of loving first, we judge first. We condemn first. We yell first. We whine and complain first. We forward the email first. We insult first, and then love comes somewhere after that. It’s out of order.

We put socioeconomic boundaries first. We put racial differences first. We prioritize parties, platforms, and politicians. We make denominational distinctions primary. We figure out our theology, doctrine, and church structures first, then decide later where, when, and how to show love.

Yes, there are difficult passages in the Bible that must be figured out and there are parts of Scripture about which followers of Jesus can legitimately disagree. But the command to love as the most important command and the one that trumps all the other commands is not one of them.

The apostle Paul tells us that a Christian who doesn’t love is like “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Eugene Peterson’s Message translates it “the creaking of a rusty gate.” Someone else might say “fingernails on a chalkboard.” In other words, a Christian or a church like that is irritating. It gets on people’s nerves. It’s outwardly obnoxious.

If love doesn’t come first, if love is not the origin and the energy behind and through what you’re doing, it’s not good. A Christian or a church that prioritizes love over everything else fills the world with the hope and healing and joy of our Lord. Without love, a Christian or a church is a tree that bears no fruit, a cloud that produces no rain. Obnoxious.

This is a critical time in the Church. Theologians, historians, and sociologists have been telling us for four decades that we are going through the greatest transition in the last 500 years of Church history. And what you do matters. It matters to you and your family, it matters to your friends and your city, it matters to this country and to the whole world.

Anger is acceptable now in our culture, but that’s not who you are. Discord and division are society’s tools, but not yours. The culture encourages you to look out for yourself first, but that’s not proper for Christians. Asserting myself, my rights, and my personality is not my priority as a follower of Jesus. We don’t go along with the world on this. We don’t say, “Well, that’s just the way things are.” To somehow justify not loving other people, no matter the reason, is to squash our creativity and insult God’s grace and ignore the command of Jesus.

No person in the world who runs into a Christian should ever have to wonder if that Christian is a safe person who will love them. No server at a restaurant, no teller at a bank, no classmate at your school, no neighbor on your street, and no member of your church should ever spend one minute wondering if love has disappeared from the earth. People who run into you, people who experience you, should believe in love.

Peace,

Allan

Prepare the Way for the Lord

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near! Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with an unquenchable fire.” ~Matthew 3

I love John the Baptist. I think all preachers love John the Baptist. All preachers want to be as bold and courageous in proclaiming the Gospel. All preachers want to be popular like John the Baptist. We all want to baptize as many people as he did. I think we can all relate to John the Baptist. He didn’t always wear what the people expected him to wear. And when he preached something the people didn’t want to hear, he got his head chopped off.

Only once, though. It only happened to him once.

We’re supposed to talk about John the Baptist during the Christmas season. It’s part of Advent. John the Baptist is the one proclaiming that the Christ is coming. But we never include John the Baptist in our Christmas sermons because it just doesn’t fit with the Christmas season. Not the way we like it, anyway. John the Baptist is loud, unpredictable, and rude. He’s like the crazy Uncle John we’d rather not show up for Christmas dinner. He greets the religious leaders in Matthew 3 by calling them a “brood of vipers!” How would you like to get that on the front of a Christmas card?

We want the soft, romantic glow of twinkling Christmas candles and John the Baptist is talking about an unquenchable apocalyptic fire! We want the baby Jesus in a manger, cooing softly at the docile barn animals around him — the Jesus Ricky Bobby is praying to in Talladega Nights — and John the Baptist gives us Jesus as a judge with an ax in one hand a pitchfork in the other!

The prayer of the early church was “Marana tha,” Lord, come quickly. That is not a prayer for Jesus to come again as a helpless infant; it’s the longing cry of God’s people for him to return in the fullness of his power and glory when every knee will bow in heaven and earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father! The prayer is for Jesus to come again to finally put an end to all sin and wickedness forever. The hope is that Jesus will make right all the things that are wrong, that he will finally fix everything that’s broken.

That’s not so scary to the poor and oppressed of this world. But, for those of us with a lot to lose? Maybe it’s a little scary.

John the Baptist is proclaiming a reality that’s coming, a reality that’s going to expose what you and I sometimes think is reality. The coming eternal reality is going to show just how false our earthly conditions and our human endeavors really are. The Holy One of Israel is going to expose all our pretensions for what they really are. In him is life and that life is the light of all people. And that light is going to shine in the darkness.

“Wait til the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of people’s hearts.” ~1 Corinthians 4:5

Luke 8 quotes Jesus as saying there is nothing hidden that won’t be disclosed; everything that’s concealed is going to be known and brought out into the open.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”

John the Baptist is so completely blown away by the reality of the coming Christ. He sees right through the charades of this world and the roles we play and the lines we say and how precious all this is to us. He sees right through all of it to the sheer power and holiness of the coming Lord. John is pointing us to the future, not the past. He’s orienting us away from our religious rituals and toward the person of Jesus Christ; away from our present-day systems and structures to an utterly brand new authority and dominion of our King and his Kingdom.

It’s happening. John the Baptist is standing out in the desert, hip-high in the waters of the Jordan River, where the world’s resistance to God is meeting the irresistible force of God’s coming. The ax is already at the root of the trees. It’s happening. Get ready. You’d better re-think your priorities, you’d better re-order your lives.

How do we get ready? How do we prepare? Where the do the roads need straightening out? What fires need to be lit to burn away the garbage in his path? What dead trees need to be cut down? What roughness in your heart needs to be smoothed?

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It’s amusing to me how “research” and “data” comes out to prove what anybody who’s paying attention already knows. By simple observation — just by looking at the symptoms and the consequences — we all know that smart phones and mobile technology devices are killing us. Socially, mentally, emotionally, academically — it’s hard to find a serious person who believes smart phones make us better. But the research that proves the harmful effects of smart phone technology is just now beginning to come out.

Here’s a link to an article that contains links to some of the more recent studies. Science is telling us that 8-11-year-olds who spend more than two hours on their screens every day are demonstrating “lower cognitive function.” Our mobile devices and social media use share an “unfavorable relationship” with attention, memory, impulse control, and academic performance. Digital technology is proving to slow down the overall development of teenagers. And the smart phones are “stunningly addictive.”

Fascinating!

As the “proof” pours in, elite schools in the U.S. are now beginning to reduce or eliminate the screens in their classrooms. Where once our society feared a technological divide — the rich kids would have access to technology and all the advantages that come with it and the poor kids would not — now scientists and education experts are fearing the opposite. The students in less affluent schools are using the technology and screens and getting dumb while the students in the rich schools are learning without the technology and screens and getting smart.

Shocking!

What emoji do I use to communicate sarcasm?

Peace,

Allan

The Power of God to Save

The Israelites are cornered. Trapped. They’re in a cul-de-sac, a bottle neck of disaster — the Red Sea on one side, the desert mountains on the other side, and the mighty forces of the Egyptian army barrelling down on top of them. They’re dead.

And our God shows his power over nature and history to split the sea right down the middle so two million of his people can pass through on dry ground. Israel saw the conquered Egyptians lying dead on the shore. They had proof. Their enemies were vanquished and powerless to ever do them any more harm. The escape is complete. Salvation is secure. And when they saw the great power displayed by the Lord, they put their trust in him, they swear their allegiance to him. And their lives are shaped by their utter dependence on the one who saves them.

That’s our story, too. That’s who we are. That’s the point of the Exodus story.

The point is not “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). We’ll miss the whole point of this grand theological message if we reduce it down to some moral lesson like “Be faithful in a tight fix” or “Don’t be afraid in tough times, just be still and let God take care of you.” No, that’s not what this story is about. It’s so much bigger than that.

The story of the crossing of the Red Sea is not to tell us what to do. It’s to tell us how to think. This story is intended to shape our worldview. This story informs and motivates the way we see ourselves, the way we see others, the way we see and experience every person and place and thing and idea we encounter.

The Exodus is not a pep talk. The Exodus is our god moving his people from one kind of existence to another. It’s an understanding that God is your God because he’s acted in your life to deliver you. You get the idea when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

When you go through the waters of salvation, you leave all your old stories behind. You see your enemies on the shore, your old enemies of sin and death and sickness and addiction and pain — all those things are eternally defeated in the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.

“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” ~1 Corinthians 6:14

That is the Gospel: The power of God to save! The power of God to save two million Israelites through the waters of the Red Sea and the power of God to save you and everybody else in the whole world. The power is his. And he uses it to save.

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: First Part

“I will ask the Father, and he will give y’all another Counselor to be with y’all forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But y’all will know him, for he lives with y’all and will be in y’all. I will not leave y’all as orphans; I will come to y’all. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but y’all will see me. Because I live, y’all also will live. On that day y’all will realize that I am in my Father, and y’all are in me, and I am in y’all.” ~John 14:16-20

Jesus is Emmanuel. God with us. God near us. That’s Jesus. Our Father takes that one dramatic step further with his Holy Spirit. God in us. God inside us.

The pronouns used by Jesus are plural, not singular. This is communal. It’s corporate. The Holy Spirit binds us together in a shared fellowship. Together.

Thirty years ago, a sociologist named Robert Bellah wrote an influential book called Habits of the Heart. He documented what he described as an American phenomenon: ontological individualism. It’s this belief, he says, is unique to us in the United States: an individual is his or her own source of meaning. Nobody can tell me what to do. Nobody can teach me anything I can’t learn on my own. I don’t need anybody. I don’t depend on anybody. The whole thing is about me. That’s a very American mindset. Bellah says most Americans barely have the vocabulary, much less the desire, to express commitment or passion for anything other than themselves.

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not for individuals. It transcends our identities and surpasses our abilities as individuals. It’s a group thing. It’s the fellowship of the Spirit.

Jesus says, “I will not leave y’all as orphans.” That’s family language. By the Holy Spirit, he says, “I will come to y’all.” Family. Community.

“We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:13

When we talk about the work of the Spirit, we usually focus on the Spirit’s relation to the individual Christian. We talk about how the Spirit is active in a person’s life or how a woman or man uses particular Holy Spirit gifts. According to Jesus, though, our emphasis should be on the Spirit’s corporate work. We should pay more attention to the indwelling and empowering of the Spirit in and through the Church.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in y’all, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to y’all’s mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in y’all.” ~Romans 8:11

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in y’all?” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16

The Church is a community where no one reaches his full spiritual potential and no one fulfills her true spiritual calling apart from the group. Each member of the fellowship contributes something special to the group so that all together the Holy Spirit does so much more for the Kingdom than any of us could do by ourselves. The Church attains to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ together.

“To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…” ~1 Corinthians 12:7

Some religions teach that meditating or praying in solitude is the highest form of spirituality. But that is not Christianity. The fellowship of the Spirit is not about private Christian growth or individual spiritual formation. What the Spirit gives us is intended for serving the common good, the whole fellowship together.

The Spirit is the one who brings us together. And when we’re together, bound to one another by the Spirit of God, the Church is bigger than we think. It transcends our individual abilities. It’s better than we can see, it’s wider and deeper, it’s richer and longer-lasting and farther-reaching. It’s more than our physical senses can begin to detect. It’s holy.

The Holy Spirit is our guarantee, our down payment of what’s coming. The fellowship of the Spirit is a taste of everything that’s going to be revealed. The Holy Spirit promises us together that, yes, God will act. Yes, God will speak. God will save. God will fulfill. Our God will live with us and in us forever and ever. Hallelujah! Amen.

Peace,

Allan

Body of Christ: First Part

In the beginning, in the dark and the chaos, God spoke powerful words and created the heavens and the earth. From the top of a smoking and shaking mountain in the desert, God spoke powerful words and raised up a holy nation. Through his mighty prophets in Israel and Judah, our God spoke powerful words of forgiveness and mercy, commitment and comfort, truth and grace. But God’s words were not enough. Words are never enough. So God’s Word became flesh. God’s Word became a body.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:14

The holy Son of God has a body. We know Jesus has a body — a real, physical body. Jesus ate and drank, he wept and slept, walked and talked, worked and played. He bled real blood. He suffered excruciating pain. And he died an agonizing death. He was dead. His body was killed.

And when God’s Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the grave, he raised him to life in a resurrection body — a real, physical body. Our risen Lord in his real, resurrection body was recognized by everyone who knew him. He ate and drank with his followers whether he was invited to or not. He walked and talked with them, taught them, and argued with them. It was Jesus’ real, physical, flesh-and-blood, resurrection body that proved he was really risen. It was remarkable.

Now, here’s something even more remarkable: our ascended Lord who is reigning right now and forever at the right hand of the Father in heaven continues to have a body here on this earth. Jesus still insists on being flesh-and-blood present in this world. He keeps showing up as a recognizable personality. But now he in an even stranger bodily form than his resurrected post-Easter body.

It’s the Church. It’s us. We are the Body of Christ.

Through us, together, by his Church, our Lord Jesus wraps his real, tangible, physical, concrete, flesh-and-blood presence around the whole world. Today the Body of Christ lives and breathes and moves and acts in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, even to the panhandle of Texas! That’s us. The Church.

And some well-meaning people say Jesus never intended to establish the Church. They say Jesus was a holy man, they even say he was the Son of God and the Savior of the World. But he never wanted to start a church. Baloney! That was the plan all along, from the very beginning of the story of Jesus. Jesus started the Church when he called together that first group, that body of twelve disciples. The Jesus movement was always a corporate, social movement; it was never just a collection of religious individuals. The Church was always meant to be the Body of Jesus.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” ~1 Corinthians 12:12

The Bible is not saying that the Church has lots of different members and we’re all supposed to work together. It says Christ has different parts of his body and we’re it! We are his body, not because we all agree with each other about everything, not even because we all like one another. We are his body because we have one Lord and that one Lord is totally committed to always being physically present and flesh-and-blood active in his world.

We are the mouth and eyes and ears and hands and feet of Jesus. We are his body on earth. And if anybody’s going to meet Jesus in this world, they’re going to meet him through the Church, the Body of Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Salvation in Being Known

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

The apostle Paul corrects himself here. He realizes the salvation emphasis should not be on you knowing God but rather, or more importantly, on God knowing you. He’s got it backwards, so he fixes it. Salvation is not found in knowing God.

But I feel like that’s the way I was raised. A lot of us were. I needed to know God and know things about God in order to be saved. But somewhere along the way it turned into knowing things about God in order to be right. Or to be better. That’s probably to be expected in the world and time in which we live. But knowing became the most important thing. And what we knew made us right. And saved. We were right about church, right about God’s will, right about baptism, right about worship, and right about who’s going to heaven and who’s not based on what we thought we knew about God.

We failed to realize that this desire to know in order to be right kept us from being truly known. It kept us from being truly loved.

We think we know everything about God, but it’s only the God we believe him to be or want him to be. The mystery’s gone and so is the need to trust. The more I know and the more I’m right, the less faith I need. When my relationship with God is based on the facts I know about God, I can also get really judgmental about others. While that may make me feel safe and protected, it can also separate me from others and increase my isolation.

So, I know a lot of things but I don’t allow myself to be known in ways that make me feel truly understood and forgiven and encouraged. By other people or by God.

And we keep hoping for God’s magic wand to change us, to just sweep over us and transform us and take away our sin and guilt and fix our broken relationships and heal our psychological wounds. But that won’t happen as long as you make knowing God and knowing facts and knowing doctrine and knowing what’s right and correct more important than surrendering to the Lord who knows you — the God in Christ who chooses you and understands you and brings you to himself to belong to him forever.

“We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The one who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the one who loves God is known by God.” ~1 Corinthians 8:1-3

This is a major part of the problem in Corinth and Galatia and it’s one of the major things that’s hurting us today. These Christians in Galatia are not going back to their pagan gods, they’re not returning to idol worship. But they are going to observing the law as their ticket to salvation. Paul sees observing the law of Moses in order to be saved as the same thing as being enslaved by idols. That’s a radical thing Paul is saying here: Judaism and paganism are the same thing! Paul says whatever leads you away from a sole reliance on Christ alone, adding anything to faith in Christ alone whether it’s by good intentions or depraved desires, is not Christian and it’s not the Gospel.

We’re not Boy Scouts trying to make Eagle Scout. We’re not trying to earn 27 merit badges and getting people to evaluate and sign off on what I know and what I can do. We’re not checking off a list or climbing a ladder. We’re not Boy Scouts! We are the redeemed sons and daughters of God! We are chosen by God, we belong to God, and we are heirs of God’s faithful promises! Why? Not because we know God, but rather because we are known by God!

Maybe you’re not known by your boss and you’re invisible to your colleagues. Maybe your spouse doesn’t understand you. Maybe you feel like an outsider in your own family. Or your church. Maybe you don’t even know what you know about yourself. What you know about your thoughts doesn’t match up with your actions. What you know in your head is not what you feel in your heart. Maybe you can’t make sense of the continuing sin or the nagging doubts or the undefined guilt or the insecurity. Maybe you just feel stuck. And maybe nobody knows any of this stuff. You’re the only one who knows what’s really going on with you and how it all makes you feel.

Well — you and God. God knows you fully and perfectly.

He knows all the stuff swirling around in your head and your heart that you don’t even know how to say. He knows you. And he knows exactly what kind of forgiveness you need. He knows exactly what kind of love you need and what kind of assurance you need. He knows where to place you and how to bring you along. He knows how to care for you. You are known by God.

Peace,

Allan

 

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