Shift of Focus

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi while in prison. He encouraged a life of righteousness and unity within the body of Christ, but he acknowledged that the gospel was being preached by some with pure motives, some with motives of envy and jealousy and some with motives of rivalry. His attitude was that regardless of the motive behind it, the gospel message was advancing. Paul even acknowledged that his imprisonment was giving confidence to believers and was bringing more visibility to the gospel message as well. I thought about this in the context of today’s culture, and it challenged me to shift my focus away from division and disagreement- even among the body of Christ. This is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge each other in our motives, but we can’t get hung up on disagreements to the point of division. Paul celebrated that the gospel was being preached and spread even with the motives of imperfection, and even as he sat in prison wrongfully. What wrong has been done to us that we can use as a platform or an opportunity for the gospel? We can actively and hopefully pursue our deliverance (as Paul was doing) while also maximizing the opportunity to spread the gospel. If we are consumed with the wrong that is done to us our hearts will be polluted, and we will miss these opportunities. What I really pulled from this is that the spread of the gospel has very little to do with our circumstances and more to do with our focus. There will always be trouble, hardship, and disagreement but that can’t be our focus. If we focus on those things we will be tempted to wait to move when our troubles are gone. That time is never so our priority needs to be the gospel and just watch what happens to our circumstances as we advance God’s kingdom.

The Maturity of Wisdom

Prove

rbs 2 reminds us that if we seek out wisdom as fervently as we do wealth, we will not only have the protection and the favor of God, but the very wisdom that we have stored up in our hearts will lead us on paths of righteousness. As I read this it occurred to me that if we choose wisdom and are in the habit of reading, meditating on it and walking in it, we will find less opportunities that we will need God to rescue us from situations. Although there will always be opposition, most of the trouble we find ourselves in stems from unwise decisions we made that opened opportunities and paths to trouble and hardship. We are often our own adversary because even if we know what the wise choice is, we easily sabotage ourselves by listening to our impatience or our flesh that demands instant gratification. When we do this, we are aware of wisdom, but we have to deceive ourselves by justifying an unwise choice. We may talk ourselves into believing we found a shortcut to success, or we say things like “just this one time”.  As much as we would like to blame the devil for every bad influence, our own flesh is responsible for more than we would like to believe. It surprised me to read in Revelation that during the period of time that the devil is locked away and has no influence on the earth, there are so many who will still not turn and repent. How could this be and how do believers backslide? I believe this has everything to do with our habits and discipline. No matter how much we know, our discipline (or lack of) is what determines our reality. If we are in the habit of following our flesh, we will hear that voice louder and will allow our appetites and emotions to lead us, but if we discipline ourselves with wisdom, we will hear the voice of wisdom louder and be able to overcome the voice and the pull of our flesh. The more often we deny our flesh, the easier it becomes. This is why the verses 5 and 6 advise that we seek it out like silver, and search for it like hidden treasure. When we do, we will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. When this happens, we will value it even above the desires of the flesh and it will be like a shield of protection for us. I’ll never forget the day my daughter expressed her love in a way that only a 3-year-old could comprehend when she told her daddy “I love you more than candy!”. Because even at the age of three, her flesh was pulling on her in the form of a strong sweet tooth, and she was well aware of it. She valued sweets so much that the only comparison she could think of for love was candy. At this age money, or “silver” meant nothing to her because her pursuit was for the sweet things. This desire got her into all kinds of trouble as a toddler. She chased after it so persistently that I often found her in dangerous places climbing furniture to get into high cabinets. She once got Nestlee Quick chocolate powder up her nose because she had taken the giant Costco sized can and tried to tilt it toward her mouth to sneak a taste. The giant can of powder weighed so much that when she tipped it the powder came rushing at her like an avalanche. As innocent as this all sounds, this is a perfect example of our pursuits when we are not ruled by wisdom. Fortunately, my daughter is all grown up now, and she still loves sweets, but her desire for them no longer rules her behavior. As she grew up and matured she learned to allow wisdom to lead her. This is how our maturity in Christ should look. As we grow and mature, we should be led more and more by the voice of wisdom and we quiet the childish and selfish voice of our flesh.

Excellence Full Circle

Proverbs 31 is a chapter that intimidates women all over because of its description of a virtuous wife. This chapter is not written directly to women. In fact, it is a recitation that King Lemuel learned from his mother, and the first 9 verses are King Lemuel reciting the standards necessary to be a good king. As I pondered this it occurred to me that his mother probably groomed him to be king when he was just a little boy by teaching him these recitations so that he would always remember it. This is similar in purpose and approach to teaching our children to memorize scripture. The capable wife described in the remainder of Proverbs 31 is an example of the kind of woman he needed to find as a wife of a king. Both the king and his wife are held at a higher standard because of their leadership, influence, and responsibility to lead the people. The woman described in this chapter has so much influence that her husband is honored because of her. Reading this chapter can easily give the impression that a woman who is domesticated and loves to cook, sew, and work hard in the field is the ideal woman, but what I really got out of reading this is that she is a woman who does not waste time on idle things, and she works hard planning and preparing well for her family. She doesn’t waste time or resources and she plans and prepares ahead so that her family is prepared for season changes and emergencies. Obviously, this translates very differently for our times. The kinds of things a woman did to prepare her home were much different than what we do. Sewing clothes and making blankets to survive a harsh winter were absolutely necessary in those times, where women now only sew as a hobby or business unless she lives on a homestead. The tipping point of this whole thing for me was at the end when it says that she will be praised by her husband, her children and the works of her own hands. It suddenly occurred to me that King Lemuel was doing this very thing. The woman he described was a picture of his own mother teaching, influencing and preparing him as a young boy to be a good king. It would all come full circle in his own life because she not only taught him his whole life how to be a good king, but she prepared him to find the kind of wife he needed to be his partner. She would be the woman who would prepare his own future son to be king, and she would be the voice of wisdom in his ear as he led the people, so she needed to be virtuous, wise, and honorable. Proverbs 31 is not a tough, unattainable standard on women. It is a call to excellence for both men and women, and an incredible picture of partnership in living with excellence and raising children with honor. This life of excellence prepares them to be honorable leaders that continue the circle by training their own children with excellence so that this continues with each generation.

Love Removes the Crushing Weight of Sin

In Galatians 6 Paul encourages those who live obedient and Spirit-led lives to come alongside other believers that have been caught in wrongdoing and restore them with a gentle spirit. This is a tough topic because we can’t accomplish this by simply pointing out the sin in someone’s life. They probably already know they are in sin and are drowning and suffocating in it. We need to empower them to repent and change by pointing them to Jesus, but this can only be done in love. It’s not enough to simply say we love them. This is something we have to walk out, but if we are prideful or feel like we are superior to those who are stuck in sin, we will not be able to operate in love. No matter how true our words are, or how much scriptural evidence we have to point out their sin, we will not be able to reach their heart unless we ourselves are humble and in check. This is why Paul reminds them (and us) of the importance of watching out for ourselves so that we aren’t tempted. The danger is not necessarily that we will fall into the same sin, but if we are prideful or feeling superior, we might blindly walk into other sin and justify it by comparing ourselves to others. Paul encourages them (and us) to carry one another’s burdens because the weight of sin threatens to crush those who are caught in it. If we are not helping them carry the load, we might be in danger of adding to the weight of their sin and crushing them with our judgment and our disapproval. When believers lovingly walk with those who are entangled in sin and lead them out by empowering them, they are fulfilling the purpose of the church. This is what Jesus did when he removed the weight of our sin from us. When we truly understand his love for us, we are free to repent and change without the crushing weight of guilt and judgment. When we change, we are free to empower others to change- as long as our change doesn’t deceive us into a prideful state of thinking we accomplished this on our own.

The Blessing of Opposition

In Numbers 22 the king of Moab saw the size of Israel camped near them and was terrified. He knew he couldn’t fight against them, and he feared that they would devour the land because of their enormous population. He summoned a man named Balaam to curse them for hire, but after an encounter with God he told the king’s servants to go back to their land because God has refused to let him go with them. The king was relentless and sent higher up servants. Balaam consulted God again and since the answer was still no and the king was not giving up, God told Balaam to go with them to speak God’s words, but not to do anything. When Balaam tried to go with them, he was opposed by God but didn’t realize it. His donkey saw the angel of the Lord with a sword drawn and he moved off the path three times, but Balaam kept beating the donkey until God opened the donkey’s mouth and allowed him to speak. I have always been amused by this story and why it seems that Balaam doesn’t act surprised when the donkey speaks to him. Maybe they left that part out of the story, but after the donkey questioned Balaam he reminded him of his years of faithfulness and asked him why he didn’t trust him when he moved from the path. God also questioned Balaam in the same way, and he told him that had the donkey proceeded, Balaam would have been killed and the donkey would have lived. The donkey saved Balaam’s life by opposing him. This had me thinking of all the times I thought opposition was coming against me, but realized later that it was designed to divert my direction. There are faithful godly people in my life that are for my good, so if they are questioning my plans or appear to be in opposition, I really need to listen to what they have to say because they might be seeing something I am blind to see. Proverbs reminds us that there is safety in the council of many. Especially God-fearing people who are hearing from God.

I also thought about the fact that God’s promise to bless Israel could not be thwarted by any other plans to curse them. Those who try to curse those who are blessed by God will find themselves opposed by God himself. This was all going on while the camp of Israel slept soundly in the wilderness completely unaware of the threat that lurked and the protection of God that halted it all. When we are obediently surrendered to God, He keeps the promises that are in his word. We have no idea how many plans have been made with the intent to curse us that God has opposed and stopped while we sleep soundly and unaware.

One last thing I pulled from this is that we also have to be careful that we don’t allow ourselves to curse someone who is blessed by God because we will also find ourselves in opposition with God Himself! Curses are not just magical spells or black magic divinations. The bible tells us that rebellion is the spirit of witchcraft, and this includes a rebellious attitude towards someone that causes us to speak out against them. If we take this further if we speak out in an attitude of disrespect and rebellion toward leaders, we are in danger of opposing God because God established authority. Even authority figures that we disagree with. Our negative mouth in opposition to authorities in our lives put us in opposition with God. It’s ok to have questions but we need to be praying for our leaders and taking our concerns to a higher authority by appealing to God. If we actually did this we would not only see change, but we would also have a heart change ourselves.

Rebellion Discredits Authority

Chapter 13 is the final chapter and the end to Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. He tells them “this is my third time coming to you” and he quotes from Deuteronomy “every fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” He reminds them that he warned them when he was there physically (the painful visit), and again in writing and now he is warning them a third time to repent and turn from their sin. He warns them that if he comes to see them in person again, he will not be lenient and will use the full capacity of his authority. What I found interesting is that using his God given authority was Paul’s proof to them of Christ working in him. This was his answer and response to those who were questioning whether he was a legitimate apostle. This made me recognize that when we are in a place of rebellion, we tend to question anyone who tries to correct us. Even when we know better. We will focus on their flaws and pull them apart as an attempt to justify our rebellion and minimize the authority of anyone who would dare correct us. In our minds, if we can invalidate or discredit the one exposing us or calling us out on our sin, we can justify ignoring their warnings. By finding their flaws, or even fabricating them in our own minds, we can shut off the guilt or the obligation to change, by equating their flaws or perceived flaws with our sin and rebellion and justifying our sin as merely a shortcoming. We excuse ourselves from changing by pretending we are working on it. Our minds are very crafty!! As I read this it occurred to me that this is exactly why the false apostles had such an influence on the church in questioning Paul’s legitimacy. The church knew Paul was their authority because he brought them the gospel and established them as a church, but as they were pulled into sin, they needed to quiet the guilt inside themselves by discrediting the authoritative voice that was calling them to repentance.


I love the wisdom of Paul’s next response when he told them to test themselves by examining themselves. There is no test more true than actually examining ourselves. In order to pass this test we have to identify the work that needs to be done in our own hearts. To fail this test is to look past the things we need to change. For me personally, this is what wakes me up when I realize I am just coasting through. Even when we have eliminated the big obvious sin issues, there should always be something we are working through. Not the same issues that we are ignoring and saying we are working through, but new things that God reveals to our hearts as we walk with him in deeper levels. Today this reminds me to test myself to see what I am ignoring. If I am playing the comparison game or trying to invalidate or discredit someone else I am probably trying to quiet the guilt of my own disobedience.

Humility Under Fire

In 2 Corinthians 10 Paul is still receiving backlash and accusations from the false apostles and teachers and they are still influencing part of the church at Corinth. Paul’s approach at first is to appeal to them with humility by greeting them with a humble appeal approach “by the gentleness and graciousness of Christ” but he immediately finishes his sentence with an ironically aggressive challenge of “don’t make me come down there” by answering back to their accusation of him being ‘weighty and powerful in his letters, but weak in presence and despicable in public speaking’. No doubt those were hurtful words, but in his defensiveness, he tries to set the record straight by saying “I who am humble among you in person but bold when I am absent. I beg you that when I am present, I will not need to be bold with the confidence by which I plan to challenge certain people who believe we are behaving in an unspiritual way.”  This is where he reminds them (and us) and probably even himself that we fight with spiritual weapons and not physical worldly weapons.

I can’t help but contrast Paul’s approach with what we just read about Moses when his authority was challenged in Numbers. Moses fell face down in humility in front of them all and then he spoke the words of God in boldness to challenge them. He didn’t defend himself. He simply told them “Tomorrow morning the Lord will reveal who belongs to him.” This placed all it all on God and proved his confidence in God that he would handle it. Paul called himself ‘humble’, but then he powered up and defended himself. He even made a point of threatening them with his plans to challenge the false apostles and teachers as if to make a point to prove to them that he wasn’t ‘weak in person’. He was just holding back because he was being humble. This is ironic and I’m not making accusations against the apostle Paul, but he was human just like the rest of us and just like we learn so much from his strengths, we can also learn from his weaknesses too. He obviously knew that humility was the right approach, but like all of us, he probably struggled with it. It’s hard not to defend yourself in the face of false accusations. Pride rises up and we want so badly to make it right, but God tells us that vengeance belongs to Him. Like Moses, if we humble ourselves and point people to God, He will be our defender, and if necessary, he will take vengeance on our behalf. This has been a struggle of my own. I can’t stand to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. I can’t stand it when people try to speak what they believe I am thinking. I want so badly to defend myself but without the Holy Spirit my defensive words fall on deaf ears and make me look even more desperate. I need the humility to allow God to speak to my heart (because who knows, some of their words just might be partially accurate and I might need to adjust something) but what is not accurate God will set right in his timing.

Humble Boldness

In Numbers 17 Paul is following God’s instructions to take a staff from a leader of each tribe with their names on them and place them in the tent of meeting so God can show the people who is chosen to be the priest. Not because they didn’t already know that Aaron was chosen, but because there had been a rebellion that actually started way back when Miriam & Aaron got jealous over Moses and challenged his position. God quickly put them in their place and they repented immediately when Miriam suddenly started showing signs of leprosy. In chapter 16 a Levite named Korah along with 2 other men started another rebellion with 250 prominent leaders of Israel. They accused Moses of appointing himself and they said “Everyone in the entire community is holy and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” The response from Moses proved exactly why he was chosen by God. He fell facedown on the ground (because he was a very humble man) and he boldly told them “Tomorrow morning the Lord will reveal who belongs to Him”. At this point God wanted to destroy the entire community but Moses and Aaron pleaded with God, so he only destroyed the 250 leaders and all that belonged to them. Moses said to Korah and all of Israel. “This is how you will know that the Lord sent me… If the ground opens its mouth and swallows them and all that belongs to them then you will know that these men have despised the Lord” Instantly the ground opened up and swallowed them all and their belongings. The people cried and fled in fear, but the next day the entire community complained against Moses and Aaron again accusing them of killing the Lord’s people. Once again, God was ready to destroy the entire community but Moses sent Aaron to quickly take his firepan of incense and make atonement for the people. A plague had already started among the people and by the time atonement was made 14, 700 of them died and the rest were spared because of the sacrifice made for them. This takes us to chapter 17 when God told them to bring the staffs in so he could show them who he had appointed. Moses had told them the one God chose would sprout. The next morning when they went back to the tent of meeting Aaron’s staff had not only sprouted leaves, but it sprouted flowers and almonds as well.

What I really pulled from this, first of all was the humility of Moses. His responses were always a posture of humility by getting facedown on the ground when he was accused. I don’t know about anyone else, but the response I get when falsely accused is usually defensive. I have to work hard to crucify my flesh to have a humble response. The next thing I noticed was that in his humility, Moses was not timid or quiet. He was actually very bold because at that point he had already humbled himself first. From the posture of humility, he was able to hear God, and God gave him the words to speak. What would happen if we responded out of humility first, and allowed God to speak to us? Moses spoke God’s words with boldness and authority and because the people were really rebelling against God, they recognized that authority they saw in Moses and rebelled against that too. They had no idea that through this whole ordeal Moses was the one pleading for their lives. We have all been on both sides of this so the bottom line here is that humility will keep our heads on straight so we can actually hear from God. Pride leads to rebellion and corrupted vision. Humility doesn’t mean timid. It is our posture before God so that we can lay aside our pride and our opinions to hear His voice and speak it out boldly and confidently.

Generosity Follows a Surrendered Heart

In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul had restored his relationship with the church at Corinth and was moving on back to the regular business of things. One of these things was the collection he had requested of all the churches that they were going to bring to the church at Jerusalem in their time of need. Paul was bragging on the church of Macedonia because in their own poverty and need they were so eager to be part of the generosity that they collected more money than anyone else and were so grateful to give it. Meanwhile, the church at Corinth had been so caught up in all of their drama that they hadn’t collected anything at all. Paul was reminding them that this collection was going to be hand-delivered by trusted men from the churches that were going to visit the church in Jerusalem. Paul also used an example from the Old Testament of how the needs in the body of Christ should look by quoting Exodus when manna came down from heaven. Those who collected more had just enough and those who collected less had just enough. Nobody was lacking and nobody had a stockpile. Paul reminded them that he wasn’t looking for them to give to the point of their own poverty, but to give during their time of surplus knowing that when they are in a time of need their needs will also be met.

As I read through this, I couldn’t help but raise the question of why the church of Macedonia was so generous and joyful even in poverty, but the church at Corinth was dragging their feet to contribute even though they were doing well financially. It hit me that our spiritual condition has everything to do with our level of generosity. When we are in a place of sin and are far from God we become selfishly consumed and focused on our own needs, wants and desires.  In this state of mind, we tend to be more closed fisted with our giving because we start taking on the mentality that we have to take care of our own selves because we believe nobody else will. Unfortunately, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy because in our sin and rebellion, we are not surrendered to God so we become our own source (and a very lousy one) but somehow, we also become prideful of this illusion in our own minds that our own hard work is providing for ourselves.  Since the the promises of God’s favor come with surrender, we are no longer walking in his favor. Sometimes it’s just the grace of God keeping us afloat, but in our pride and ignorance we credit our “success” to our own hard work until we hit disaster and we either become humbled or we dig further into our own pride mess. These are just my own thoughts, but I have noticed that when we doubt God’s favor and blessing in our lives, it’s often because we either know we are not surrendered, or because we misunderstand what it means to live in a place of surrender. The promises of God all come with surrender and obedience. If we are not walking in obedience, we tend to believe we are being punished for messing up when the reality is that God is more interested in our surrender that our perfection. Our obedience comes from the place of surrender, even if we mess that up too. God is after our surrender and his favor comes when our pride is set aside and we follow after him. “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 If you struggle with believing God is for you, check your level of surrender. Does God have the right to run your life, or are you still large and in charge? “Commit your activities to the Lord and your plans will be achieved.” Proverbs 16:3

The Weight of Confrontation

Chapter 7 shows the very emotionally vulnerable and human side of Paul once again as he expresses his deep grief and turmoil from having to confront them about their sin and bring correction. He tells them that he doesn’t regret it, even though he said that he did regret it because of the pain it caused them both because it eventually brought repentance. He had been speaking a lot about the comfort he received from Titus over the past few chapters, and he finally explains why in chapter 7. After Paul’s confrontation there was a deep relational fracture between he and the church. He felt the weight of the unresolved conflict even though he knew that his confrontation and correction was right and necessary. This is healthy even though it’s painful because it shows that his correction was truly motivated by love. Paul was broken and full of grief as he sat in the unresolved state, and this is when he began writing this letter we call “2 Corinthians” trying desperately to repair his relationship with the church.  When Titus came to them, he was able to act as a buffer between them and Paul. Because of this repentance came to the church and they were able to share with Titus their love and affection towards Paul as their spiritual father. When Titus came back to Paul, he was able to share those conversations with Paul and it brought peace to his broken heart since he had been carrying the weight of that unresolved conflict. This chapter felt so relatable to me. We have all had to have hard conversations and confrontations. These conversations only go well when they are done in love, but the hard thing about love is it comes with all the grief and pain because love isn’t love without this vulnerability. Nobody likes to be corrected, so confrontations feel a lot like rejection or disapproval even when they are done in love. A broken person often perceives the correction this way and it can even delay their response to own and repent of their issues if they become defensive. Titus was a safe person to buffer between Paul and the church and repentance was achieved and the relationship was repaired. Sometimes we have an opportunity to be that buffer person and we may not realize what we have been thrown into. We have to be careful that we don’t take sides with people when they are emotional so that we are able to be a buffer to them for their good and for the good of their relationships. Whether we find ourselves in need of a difficult conversation, or we realize we are in the middle of someone else’s conflict, we have to be very careful in our discernment when emotions are involved. What we say and how we respond matters and we can either help repair, like Titus did or we can cause damage and possibly harden someone from their repentance if we speak to appease an emotional person.

I Ate my Words

In Numbers 13 Moses had sent scouts to the promised land to tell them what kind of land it was and to bring back some produce. These scouts weren’t just any men. They were leaders among Israel and when they came back, they gave a negative report to the people saying that they wouldn’t be able to overcome them because they were like grasshoppers in their sight. Joshua & Caleb gave a different report and showed the people a cluster of grapes so large that two men carried the branch. They told the people that they need to go into the land that God promised because they can conquer it. But the other men that gone with them argued with Joshua and Caleb in front of the people insisting that they would not win because the men in the land were much stronger than they are. This negative report caused the community to cry out with loud cries and they wept all night. They asked “why is the Lord bringing us into this land to die by the sword? Our children will become plunder. Wouldn’t it be better that we go back to Egypt?” So they decided to appoint a leader and return to Egypt. Moses & Aaron, and Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes and tried to convince the people that God had removed the protection from their enemies to give them this land but they would not hear it and they threatened to stone them to death and the glory of the Lord appeared to them all. God was angry and wanted to wipe them all out but Moses reasoned with God reminding Him that all of Egypt and those who have heard of his fame were watching. Because of this God didn’t wipe them out, but he told them instead, they would get exactly what they spoke out. They would die in the wilderness and their entire generation would not see the promised land. Their children would suffer the consequences of delay in the promise because of their rebellion because they would have to wait for the entire generation to die before they could enter. All of that generation except Joshua & Caleb would die in the wilderness. Some of them tried to change their mind and go. Moses warned them that they no longer had God’s favor, but they went anyway and were slaughtered.

As I read this I thought about the consequence of my words. Things I have prayed for and cried about to God ruined by a negative report. Though I’m so grateful for the mercy and grace of the new covenant, I wonder how many times I have had to receive exactly what I spoke out. How close have I been to promises but I chose a negative report and spoke words of death instead? This chapter was sobering to me and it reminds me that we literally eat our words so we need to make sure we are speaking God’s words.

Temporary Dwellings

In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul is talking about our bodies before and after eternity. He refers to our current bodies as weak, naked, and as temporary “tents” and he refers to our eternal bodies as dwelling places and as buildings. This took my mind back to John 14 when Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them (and us) and he said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” or as some versions translate it “In my father’s house are many dwelling places.” It occurred to me that he is probably talking about our permanent eternal heavenly bodies, and not so much an empty structure that we will go to and from.  These are just my own thoughts pondering this as I read because I know that we are all so ignorant in our understanding of eternity. I get excited thinking about all that God has prepared for us in heaven that we could never even imagine. God, the master creator made this earth, and it was perfect before sin came in and destroyed it, so if this earth, in its broken state can be this beautiful, I can’t even fathom what awaits us in eternity! I like to imagine some of the most beautiful places here on earth that I would love to visit, and then think about the fact that heaven will be that much more beautiful, and we will have an eternity to discover and explore it all without the limitations we have on this earth. If you have ever imagined Heaven as a boring place with floating clouds holding fat baby angels with harps you have completely underestimated the creativity of our God!

Another parallel I found with John 14 is that after Jesus talked about the mansions in heaven, he also gave the disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit. He told them that he was leaving, but that it was good that he was leaving because he was leaving them (and us) with another “comforter” and some versions translate this as “the advocate” which is the Holy Spirit. The world can’t see or know him but verse 25 says he is the Spirit of truth, and he will teach us and remind us of the things Jesus said. In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul goes from talking about our bodies being temporary dwelling places that will be solid structures in heaven, and then he tells them (and us) that Jesus left the Holy Spirit as a pledge or a “down payment”. When I read this, I wondered how I hadn’t noticed before that Paul described the Holy Spirit as a “down payment”. As I thought about this in terms of us being the bride of Christ, I also realized that us receiving the Holy Spirit as a pledge is a lot like a bride receiving her engagement ring. While the groom prepares financially to provide for her, and she prepares a wedding. They are committed to each other and preparing for a life together much like we are committed to Jesus and preparing for a life of eternity with Him.

It All Comes Back to the Gospel

In chapter 4 Paul brings everything back to the gospel as he always does. He encourages the church at Corinth not to give up on the ministry they had been given, even in the face of all the opposition they had just gone through, and despite the false teachers and apostles that tried to come in, take over and divide their church. In verse 2 he said, “Instead we have renounced shameful secret things, not walking in deceit or distorting God’s message, but commending ourselves to every person’s conscience in God’s sight by an open display of truth.” By confronting all the issues in the church head on when Paul had come for his “painful visit”, they had exposed the tactics of the enemy and shed light on the truth so now they were all with a clear conscience because the truth exposed always disarms the plots and plans of the enemy.

Paul reminds them (and us) how important it is that we share the gospel so that people have an opportunity to see it, because Satan is working hard to keep the gospel “veiled” to the eyes of unbelievers and he is also working hard to deceive believers into a false and distorted gospel as well. He will use all kinds of things to distract us and shift our focus if not in division like he tried to do at the church of Corinth, he will occupy our minds with our own selves, our own desires, and our own problems so that we are so inwardly focused that we are not effectively sharing the gospel.

In verse 7 Paul compares us to fragile, common clay jars with treasure hidden inside “so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.” Like these clay pots, our ordinary, fragile, frail, and weak human bodies are intended to keep us humble so that we remember that the treasure inside us (the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit packed with all the spiritual gifts, miracles, wisdom and truth) comes from God and not ourselves. Otherwise, we might become prideful and make it about ourselves. Paul reminds us again that like Jesus, we have to die to our flesh every day because we have the promise that we will also be raised to life with Jesus. We can’t raise to life without first dying to ourselves. Paul encourages us not to give up under pressure, under persecution and especially under our own personal struggle to crucify our flesh on a daily basis because as much as we feel the pain of telling our flesh no, and the persecution and pressure of a world that doesn’t understand us, this pain and suffering is all only temporary in comparison to eternity.

The Testimony of Change

In chapter 3 Paul compared the letters of recommendation that the false apostles were using to authenticate themselves and attempt to discredit Paul, to the changed lives that the people represented. Nobody can argue with a changed life and there is a reason that testimonials are used for commercials, advertising, and weight loss. When people see someone with the same struggle is able to overcome it, they have hope and are willing to try. Paul told them that they themselves were like living letters testifying of not only his discipleship of them, but of Christ Himself. He also takes this comparison another step by comparing the stone tablets of the law to the spirit of God because the law was not sufficient to cleanse sin, it only convicted of sin and made us aware, but the Son of God died and cleansed us from sin and His Spirit, not the law is what changes us from the inside out. We aren’t changed by simply knowing what is wrong. We are changed when the Spirit comes in and changes our hearts. This is why Paul reminds them (and us) that our confidence is in Christ and not ourselves. Paul did not need letters of recommendation to prove that he was a legitimate apostle. His confidence was in Christ so the churches he started flourished and grew all over the place because what is of God will grow. If our confidence is in God, we will need nobody to affirm us, but we will grow and flourish so much that the change in us will be evident to all. Paul used one more comparison when he talked about Moses using a veil over his face to speak to the people because immediately after talking to God his face would be changed and he would glow for a while until the glory of God faded from his face. The people could not handle the glory of God and they didn’t understand it just as the Jews are unable to see the fulfillment of Scripture points to Jesus as the Messiah until the day that God unveils their eyes. We are this way too without the Spirit of God. When Jesus sent us “the comforter” in his place he promised to guide us into truth. There are things that we can only see by the revealing of the Holy Spirit. There are things we can only understand when the Holy Spirit teaches us. There is truth that will only come to light when Holy Spirit shines a light on it, and spiritual gifts activated only by the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul said the letter, or the law kills (because we will literally die trying to fulfill it) but the Spirit gives life. We need the Holy Spirit to lead, guide and teach us because our confidence is not in ourselves or the law, but in Christ.

Unity & Restoration

2 Corinthians 2 is a continuation of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth after making a disciplinary visit to them. He is still full of pain and is expressing his deep love for them, even to the point of telling them he wrote to them with an anguished heart full of tears. He expresses his compassion to their pain as he navigates through the repair process in his relationship with this church that he started. From Paul’s writing it sounds like there was one particular person among them that was responsible for causing the division and the erroneous teaching in the church that Paul had been talking about in his previous letter. Since Paul is obviously writing to the church, they all know what took place during his visit, but reading his letter from our perspective feels very much like we are observing the back end of a conversation. We weren’t there for Paul’s visit, but since we read his previous letter, we know enough about what was going on in the church before he got there, and we know that Paul came to administer some authoritative church discipline as the founding apostle. We also know from Paul’s previous letter to the church (1 Corinthians) that there were prideful teachers among them teaching erroneous doctrine and leading many from the church back into sin and embracing the idea of living a duplicitous life. Paul had called them out for claiming to be Christ-followers while blurring the lines so far that they were engaged in blatant sin, and teaching this “everything is permissible” doctrine to the people and leading them off course. This same teacher or teachers who were being financially supported by the church were also the divisive ones Paul spoke of who were making an issue out of which leaders the people were following, trying to discredit Paul as a legitimate apostle because of his choice to work for his own needs instead of using his apostolic rights to burden the church. It may have been one leader, and it may have been a few, but from this letter it appears that the church disciplined one particular man, and now Paul was calling for them to forgive him and affirm their love for him so that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed in his grief. Paul told them that if they forgive him, so does he and cautioned them at the importance of this man’s restoration so that Satan is not able to use this as an opportunity to divide. The most important thing out of this was the restoration of unity in the church. Paul reminded them (and us) that what happens with us in the church doesn’t just happen in private. It’s put on display for all to see. The world is watching how we live, how we respond to things, how we treat each other, how we love (even and especially in times of discipline) and whether we are being honest and sincere in our walk and are authentically living out what we say we believe. Paul ends this part of his letter by describing the church as a fragrance of Christ to the world. To those who are perishing, we are like the smell of death, but to those being saved we are an aroma of life because we are teaching and living out the true gospel out of sincerity and not selling it like a cheap gimmick.

Comfort In Our Own Pain

In 2 Corinthians 1 Paul is writing the church at Corinth after having what he described as a painful visit with them that was for their benefit. He had been writing to them about a lot of things that were out of order and had even threatened in a parent kind of “don’t make me come down there” way. After his visit to them he was trying to repair and bring comfort to them. He knew the discipline was hard, but necessary, and in true fashion, the church had accused Paul of being unreliable because he changed his plans for visiting them. I’m speculating here, but this seems like a defensive argument, and this is what humans do when we feel attacked. We find fault in the person we feel is attacking us to deflect from the correction. Paul was sounding a little bit defensive in his response to them but this is a reminder that even though he was an apostle, he was still also human. After explaining his change of plans Paul writes to them about their pain in a compassionate kind of way while also relating to them with his own pain. He describes his suffering in Asia as having a near death experience so bad that he wished for death. He encouraged them that together in their pain they can bring comfort to each other. This is what stuck out to me in the reading today. When we are hurting, and especially hurting because we have been corrected, we tend to act like we are the only ones hurting. When we remember that other people are hurting too it brings us together. Paul seems to be trying to accomplish that by relating to them in their pain and sharing his. He reminds them (and us) that when we share comfort during our own pain we are able to bring comfort to each other.

The Mother of Wisdom

Reading in Proverbs 9 this morning I heard this female personified voice of wisdom a little differently, and a lot more personal. As I read this morning it occurred to me that her voice is not just a female voice. She is a mother’s voice. She calls out to us saying “my son” and begs us to listen to her voice. I could feel a different pull in her call to us to listen. The compassion and the love behind her wisdom as she describes herself. Verse 22 says “The Lord made me at the beginning of His creation” and she describes being there as God created everything on the earth. “I was born when there were no watery depths”, “I was there when He established the Heavens, and when he laid out the horizon on the surface of the ocean” and then she says “I was a skilled craftsman beside Him. I was His delight every day rejoicing before Him. I was rejoicing in His inhabited world delighting in the human race- and now my sons, listen to me.”  Wisdom personified is the maternal counterpart that God created. As I read through the call and pleading of wisdom to listen to her voice as she called out, I thought of all the times I heard the voice of wisdom pull at me, and I pretended not to hear it because I wanted to do what I already planned to do. I can think of so many times that I came back sad with regret that I ignored that pull on my heart. Today, as I read through Proverbs 9, I saw wisdom as not just the voice that tells you what you should do or the voice that mocks you if you ignore it, but I saw the love and compassion in wisdom begging us to heed to her words. I saw the love and wisdom of mothers and grandmothers and it gave me a different perspective to her voice.

Physical & Spiritual Resurrection

1 Corinthians chapter 15 is a very heavy chapter. Today I found my mind blown as I read. Paul was clarifying the gospel once again by also listing all of the eyewitnesses that were still alive and could attest to the resurrection of Jesus. Paul added himself as an “abnormaly born” witness since his encounter with Jesus was a little bit different. Paul spent a lot of time establishing the importance of the resurrection since there is no salvation without resurrection. Apparently, there were some in the church at Corinth that were saying there was no resurrection of the dead because he was addressing them by asking “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” He clarifies this importance of this point as the whole cornerstone of the gospel because without the resurrection of Jesus there would be no salvation. Without the resurrection we are all still stuck in sin and the gospel is for nothing, but because of the physical resurrection of Jesus we know that we will also be resurrected spiritually. Paul used several examples of physical and spiritual resurrection to prove how important this is. The first comparison was Adam, the first man made of flesh that brought sin and death to all of mankind because of his disobedience, but Jesus was the heavenly ‘Adam’ that died physically to give us that spiritual resurrection, so to deny that there is a resurrection is to deny salvation. At this point Paul tells the church at Corinth “Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals. Come to your senses and stop sinning, for some people are ignorant about God and I say this to your shame.  The second example Paul used was that seeds that are planted in the ground are dead and buried, and when they are planted in death they are changed and ‘resurrected’ into something new. They break down and die as seeds, but they come up with new and changed bodies in the form of flowers and plants. Paul has two analogy points here. One is that the seed has to die in the ground before it can resurrect, and the second point is that the seed that is planted will look much different when it comes up. The seed is not much to look at in the first place, but when planted it dies and breaks down in the ground and it is changed in body and form into something much more beautiful and much more fruitful. In verse 42 Paul said “Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption, sown in dishonor, raised in glory, sown in weakness, raised in power, sown in a natural body, raised in a spiritual body.” We are like that seed and when we say yes to Jesus, we say yes to die to our flesh just like Jesus did, so we can resurrect into something more fruitful and more beautiful. Paul told the church “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and corruption cannot inherit incorruption.”  Unless we die to our flesh, we can’t inherit the kingdom of God. This means we can’t continue on in our sin and expect to resurrect from it. Jesus died and resurrected physically so that we could die and resurrect spiritually, but we can’t resurrect without first dying to our flesh like he did. Paul told the church “I die daily” and this is what we are to do. When we die to our flesh, and our selfishness, we are changed into something fruitful and beautiful that God can use.

God is Orderly

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul continued writing to the church at Corinth about order in the church with the use of spiritual gifts. God gave lots of spiritual gifts, including a heavenly prayer language to us when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, but Paul encourages the church to use prophesy as the preferred gift when the church is gathered publicly because it edifies and encourages everyone. He reminds the church that even though we can all speak in our heavenly language at will, nobody is encouraged unless there is an interpreter present, so it’s better to prophesy in our known language so that everyone can be encouraged. What I really pulled out of this is that God is a God of order. There is a common misconception among charismatic circles that the only way the Holy Spirit comes is by spontaneous interrupting and taking over. It somehow seems more spiritual as if something we did in worship caused Him to come into our presence and show up. Truthfully, he is full of order and if we are also in order, we will seek Him early and come into his presence, He will show us things ahead of time so we can share them in a proper order. When we are in the word daily and we seek him early in the morning, he will show us things so that when the time is appropriate and he leads us, we will be prepared and able to share the things that he has shown us. When I was in the hospital, God really started talking to me about order. Before I got sick, I was fatigued and struggled to wake up most mornings. I read and wrote my devotionals in the mornings, but I was always behind schedule, distracted and running late. When I was in the hospital, I started a rhythm of waking up with the sun and starting my day with my devotional time and prayer. This sets my day in order and allows me to meet with God before I have to start doing things. This order is so important, and I believe it matters in everything that we do. If we look at scripture, we find this to be true everywhere. God was very orderly and precise in the creation of earth, his instructions for the ark of the covenant, his instructions to Noah for building the ark and taking in the animals, and all of the Old Testament law instructions. God has always been a God of order and detail, so why would we treat the spiritual gifts, or our lives any differently? If we will follow God’s order and put Him first in everything, He will speak to us and equip us, and we will find less often times that we are caught by surprise because nothing is a surprise to God. He knows everything we will face today, and if we seek him early, he will show us things we need to be ready for. The same order applies in everything else we do. God is not chaotic. He is very orderly in everything he does, and he wants us to walk in his order so that we are not only obedient to his order, but efficient in doing his work.

Love

1 Corinthians 13 is well known as “the love chapter”. Most everyone has heard it because it is traditionally read aloud at weddings. But in the context of this writing, Paul was still talking to the church at Corinth about unity and love within the church. He was teaching them about spiritual gifts and the roles and offices of leadership in the church when he told them he was going to show them a “a more excellent way”. From the previous chapters we read, they were behaving selfishly and not treating each other well and Paul was about to break it down for them. From here on out we read about all the grandiose things we could possibly do that look spiritual, followed by all kinds of negative comparison statements if I don’t have love behind what I’m doing because it doesn’t matter how angelic I sound, or how generous I look if my heart is missing the motive of love. And none of it even matters if I’m just doing these things to look good. The rest of the chapter tells us what love is, and what love is not. What I really pull out of this is that love is intended to drive the selfishness out of us all by teaching us to sacrificially put the greater good of others ahead of our own selfish wants and desires. This is not to say that we become people pleasers and do what other people want us to do in a co-dependent sort of way. There is no place for selfishness anywhere in love. Not by the giver, and not to be expected by the receiver. Love thrives and everyone wins when we all push our selfishness away and sacrifice for the greater good of others. That is why Paul went down the list of not only what love is, but what love is not.

Here is a list of whatlove does not do:

  • Does not envy (not jealous of success, favor or giftings)
  • Is not boastful (not prideful or rude)• Is not conceited (not full of self or our own opinions)
  • Does not act improperly (not inappropriate, hurtful, abusive, or controlling) Is not selfish (does not expect others to accommodate or give)
  • Is not easily provoked (not quick to get angry or offended)
  • Does not keep a record of wrongs (forgives offenses as they come and does not continuously bring up past mistakes)
  • Finds no joy in unrighteousness (does not expect others to tolerate our wrongdoing)

Here is a list of what love is:

  • Patient (fruit of the Spirit)
  • Kind (fruit of the Spirit)
  • Rejoices in the truth (transparent and open, not secretive, or intentionally deceptive)
  • Bears all things (Goes through the hard things with people)
  • Believes all things (Believes in the other person’s best intentions and motives)
  • Hopes all things (Hopes for the best in others in spite of past failures)
  • Endures all things (Suffers through hard times with an expectation of better things to come)

We all battle selfishness naturally, but as I read through these lists, I could see where our past wounds and hurts add to our natural selfishness and play such a strong role in our unloving behaviors and responses. When we have been hurt, (and we all have been hurt) we tend to carry those hurts into our other relationships, but we don’t always realize what we are doing. If we don’t address those past hurts, we might inadvertently punish innocent people for the wrongdoings of those who have previously hurt us and find ourselves tempted to either try to control others under a masked attempt to prevent them from hurting us, or negatively prejudge their motives and intentions out of our own desperate attempts to protect ourselves emotionally. Sometimes we prejudge other people’s motives because we ourselves have done wrong, so we automatically assume everyone else has or will do the same. Either way, by nature, we make unfair assumptions and are suspicious of the intent and motives of others before finding out the facts. We have all been deceived and hurt before and nobody wants to be the fool. But according to scripture, love demands that we hope for the best and believe in the best intentions of others first. This is not to say that we naively believe everyone and everything. It means that we choose to believe the best first, but if they lie to us or prove to have a track record or pattern of deception, we don’t ignore the facts. In other words, we are supposed to give the benefit of the doubt first and allow them to prove themselves righteously before we make assumptions or pre-judgments of what they might do or might have done. This is vulnerable. This leaves us wide open for hurt and devastation, but this is what makes love so powerful. If we are not completely open and vulnerable, we will never experience the beauty of love, no matter how real it is. When Jesus died for the world, it was the most vulnerable expression of love that could possibly be given because he did it while being mocked, abused, hated, and scorned. Love is sacrificial and He didn’t protect himself from the anguish and the hurt so that we could experience the fullness of all His love. If we could really grasp the power of this kind of love it would truly change us forever. Paul ends this chapter reminding us that out of everything we will ever experience, faith and hope are necessary while we are here on this imperfect earth, but it will not be necessary in heaven so the most important thing and the only thing that will actually last for all eternity is love.