Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tattooed on the Heart

Good morning,

Paul sometimes cracks me up!  This morning's text is 2 Cor. 3:1-6.  In verse 12 (on down the way), Paul declares he uses "great plainness of speech" (KJV).   LOL!  Ri-i-i-ight..... This declaration comes after all these verses where he calls the Corinthians "letters", using very picturesque, analogical language. Ok then!  That Paul...smh.

Well, what IS he talking about here?  The central verse of this passage is verse 2:

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men;

The picture that comes to my mind is that of two lovebirds who choose a hapless tree and carve their initials into it, afterwards carving a heart around them.  They do this to express a level of commitment to each other.  In more modern times, lovebirds tattoo their love's name on their bodies - - - not recommended, not preferred.  But, I digress.  It might be helpful to see this passage in The Message version.

1-3 Does it sound like we’re patting ourselves on the back, insisting on our credentials, asserting our authority? Well, we’re not. Neither do we need letters of endorsement, either to you or from you. You yourselves are all the endorsement we need. Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.
4-6 We couldn’t be more sure of ourselves in this—that you, written by Christ himself for God, are our letter of recommendation. We wouldn’t think of writing this kind of letter about ourselves. Only God can write such a letter. His letter authorizes us to help carry out this new plan of action. The plan wasn’t written out with ink on paper, with pages and pages of legal footnotes, killing your spirit. It’s written with Spirit on spirit, his life on our lives!

Paul is "plainly" stating that the Corinthians are his spiritual offspring, his spiritual children.  In using this comparison he is showing how very dear the Corinthians are to him.  If you have children, biological or otherwise, as I do, you know that they are "written on your heart", like those initials carved into the tree.  Paul felt this way about his spiritual children, and not just the Corinthians, but all those he had been used by God to lead to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

There's a reason I phrased that last sentence so awkwardly.  It was important I point out that it was God's Holy Spirit who led "Paul's converts" to faith in Christ.  The thing is, when I first had my bio children, I thought that their successes or failures were "all about me".  And, no doubt, to a large extent they were and are, because God has given my husband and me that tremendous responsibility to love them, to show them the way of righteousness and to live the Christ-led life before them.  It's "all about me" to be faithful to the task I've been given.  Then, the results are up to God.

As Paul points out here - - - it is Jesus Christ who writes upon their hearts, to draw them to Him for salvation, to sanctify them as they live their lives.  He is the One who "carves into" their lives, as He carves into our own.  If you notice in this passage, though, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all three mentioned as doing this "writing" on people's hearts.  Isn't that beautiful?  We can then humbly tell others about what God is doing or has done ("publishing it", as Paul says), being careful to give Him all the glory for His marvelous works (vs. 5).

When I was a kid, it was common for men to carry coins in their pockets.  I have several visual images of men with their hands in their pockets, fingering their change, rocking back and forth from heel to toe and pontificating about some great achievement THEY had done or their children had done, commending themselves.

Every morning, I pray for my biological sons, and also for my spiritual sons and daughters.  There are many times I don't understand what God is doing in their lives.  Although, seeing God work in their lives often brings me great joy, I confess that it causes me tremendous grief at times.  God often does things in ways that make no sense in my limited understanding.  But, that is why He is God, and I am not!  He is building my faith as I pray and trust Him with my most precious loves.  His love, His commitment to His children, is unfailing and eternal.  I am sure of this: He deserves the glory in all things, no matter what.  He does the carving, the shaping, the making.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;[a]
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.  
Psalm 139:14 (NKJV)

Father, thank you for inscribing my loved ones on my heart.  What a blessing they are! You are The Waymaker, the Carver, the Shaper.  I am your "medium", like clay in Your hands.  "Written with Spirit on spirit, His life on our lives!"  (vs. 6) All praise goes to You for the way You choose to use me and my loved ones, my spiritual offspring, to bring all the praise and honor and glory to Yourself. In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Victory Parade

Good morning,

For whatever the reason I have very strong memories of a band trip I took to Mobile, AL, while in high school.  We were quite "jazzed" (yes, it WAS an intentional pun!) to be marching in the Mardi Gras parade that year.  I think it was 1974.   At any rate, we had these uniforms which were designed for guys.  I looked like a total heifer in them.  And, our shoes had to be "whitewashed" on a regular basis with shoe polish.  The thing I remember about the parade, other than my total revulsion over the shenanigans I saw was that, along the route, I stepped in a huge pile of horse manure.  Needless to say, I was quite disgusted; the situation distracted me for the rest of the parade.  I can still remember trying to clean that stuff off those white shoes.  It was impossible for me to get off!

2 Corinthians 2:14-17 describes "the resplendent walk", which inspired the title of this blog.  An alternate title could have been "triumphal march" or "victory parade"!

14-16 In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.
16-17 This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on? No—but at least we don’t take God’s Word, water it down, and then take it to the streets to sell it cheap. We stand in Christ’s presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can.  
The Message

What does this mean, then - - - to march in victory?  Does it mean we never step in the poo?  Does it mean that things are "happy, happy, happy all the time"?  Of course not.  I'll be honest.  I've been struggling lately.  Since the beginning of September, I've spent more time than I would like in hospitals and funeral homes.  People I know and love (8 different families) have experienced a tragic loss since the beginning of September.  It has been heartbreaking and frankly, smelled a whole lot like "the poody-poo" (as Turtleman calls it).  I know in my head and in my heart that we have the victory in Jesus; I've just not so much been "feeling it" lately.

So, this morning, I am consoling myself with the truths of this passage.
1.  Victory begins by accepting Jesus as Savior (vs. 14).  This does not mean going through the machinations of this or that church, per se.  Machinations and spiritual gymnastics (aka "works") do not save you or put you on the parade route.  No, there must be an intentional, heartfelt decision, a willful turning to Christ as Lord and Savior.  You must "put on Christ", as it says in Galatians 3:27 and Romans 13:14. This clothing of ourselves in Jesus is like putting on our band uniform; you can't get into the victory parade without it.  As vs. 14 says above, it is only in Christ that God leads us from place to place in one, perpetual victory parade.
2.  Then, God leads us.  When you march in a parade, you must follow your designated leader.  To continue with this (somewhat flawed) analogy, God is our divine Drum Major.  Victory is only possible if we keep our eyes on Him and follow.  Sometimes, He leads us where we don't want to go. But, that is not up to us.  We used to blithely (or at least I did it blithely) sing in church, "Where He Leads Me I Will Follow" years ago.  Not as easy as the song says, is it?
3.  Victory walk is "redolent with life"!  Christ in us gives us a distinct "smell of victory".  If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you know this.  Other believers will often recognize that "signature scent", and it is a sweet aroma to them.  On the contrary, to unbelievers, we stink.  The odor of salvation is so offensive to them that, often, they seek to smear us with poody-poo in order to cover the scent.  The degree of offense here is staggering.  The Bible says that the aroma of salvation stinks like a "rotting corpse" to the unsaved.  Now, I've never smelled a rotting corpse; I hope to never have that experience.  This degree of revulsion on the part of unbelievers (many of them at least) explains why only the Holy Spirit can draw a person to salvation (John 6:44).  This is why we must pray earnestly for our lost friends, acquaintances and loved ones.
4.  Walking in victory means taking God's message, His undiluted words of salvation, and sharing them with a lost world.  Oh y'all, I am so convicted by this command from our Savior (Matthew 28:18-20)!  Refusing to tell the good news, ignoring "The Great Commission" is NOT an option for the Christian.  "Is anyone capable of this in him- or herself", Paul asks (vs. 16)?  No.  It is only Christ in us who gives us the power to accomplish His commission to us.  We don't have that power in or of ourselves.

So, what about that poo?  Well, we go to the Lord for cleansing, because we are incapable of cleaning ourselves up, just as I was unable to get all that horse poo off my white shoes.  He scrapes the filth off of our souls, pats us on the butt and sends us back out into the parade.  There is no poo He cannot handle.  You know, I can't think of much worse than sitting around, covered in filth.  On a recent mission trip, one of our team members fell into a ditch of nastiness....while trying to help someone else!  He had great intentions and wonderful motives!  Yet, he became covered in poo.  What was his response?  To sit around in it and say, "Woe is me.  I am done for.  I am useless. I might as well give up.  God can't use me  - - - I'm covered in poo."  ??  Of course not!  He immediately went to the place of cleansing and got cleaned up.  In no time, he was back in the victory parade.  God is always SO good, Y'all!

This is a particular peril for unbelievers.  Some of them actually want to come to Jesus for salvation, but the enemy has convinced them that they are covered in so much poo that not even Jesus can clean them up.  Nonsense!  Jesus is the One who "makes all things new" (Revelation 21:5)!  One of these days, He will completely re-create the heavens and the earth.  He can certainly transform completely your soul, whether you are covered in the poo of addiction, sexual enslavement, lying, cheating stealing, killing...He is greater than all that!  His grace is far greater than all our sin.

My Christian brother, Chuck Colson, knew this.  He knew about that supernatural grace that is greater than all our sin.  If you have 9 more minutes, watch and listen:

Dear Father, I thank you with my whole heart that Your grace is greater than any poo the devil can sling, smear or place in our paths.  You are so glorious, so far beyond our wildest imaginations.  I praise You for taking us from the deepest pits of sin and transforming us forever, then continually molding us into a more recognizable likeness of Your Son.  Thank you for giving us eternal victory and for leading us in Your victory parade, that resplendent walk.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pour on the Love

Good morning,

The apostle Paul must have been a prolific writer, especially of letters to the early churches.  A couple of blog posts ago, I mentioned that there is a "lost" letter to the Corinthians.  Paul references that letter here in the first few verses of chapter 2.  Apparently, since his prior visits and the letter of 1 Corinthians did not correct one particularly destructive situation present in that church body, he sent Titus with a real "barn burner" of a letter, a true "trip to the woodshed".  That letter, though now lost to us, had accomplished its intended purpose, that being to correct the aforementioned sinful situation.

Now, here, in 2 Cor. 2:5-11, Paul follows his declaration of love for this church by saying this:

5-8 Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.
9-11 The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don’t think I’m carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I’m joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways!
The Message

The American arm of the Body of Christ takes a lot of heat from unbelievers because of its internal squabbling; and, a lot of that criticism is deserved.  To set up as an expectation that there will always be peace and harmony in the local church is to assume that it is populated with something other than human beings.  As humans, we will make mistakes:  we will get tripped up in error; we will misspeak; we will hurt feelings; etc.  When (not if) this happens we should be prepared to respond scripturally.

Based on this passage, Paul recommends that the offending brother be restored.  The local Corinthian church had confronted him and administered "punishment" (we aren't told what that was). Apparently, the brother had repented.  Paul, then advocates forgiving the man and restoring him, spiritually, to fellowship both with God and with his fellow believers.  Paul goes on to point out that to carry a personal grudge against a person who has "made things right" is unhealthy for both the local church and the specific individuals involved.  Satan loves to use such situations to cause more dissension and render the local church ineffective.

In my hometown, local churches' past histories tend to define them.  On one corner is the church that split when {insert minor incident here}.  On another corner is a church where this member committed this infamous act, and so on.  On a smaller scale, our Christian culture is full of church-switchers. Some personal preference gets violated and the person/family goes across town to another church, effecting a "church divorce".  An "arm" of the local Body of Christ hacks itself off.  A "foot" ... walks away.

Often, we just let them go.  They are "expendable".  Oh, how it breaks my heart to write this...
Our pride keeps us from reaching out to them and trying to make things right.  Yet, we should do this!  Not because they were "a tither", God forbid!  Not because they were a leader in our local body. Not because they were influential.  It should not matter whether they were a "mouth" or an "appendix" in the local body.  We should do it because when we do, we are acting as healers of The Body.  1 Corinthians 12:25-27 - - - The Message

25-26 The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.
27-31 You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this.

Although we endeavor to "walk in the Spirit", our "old, fleshly nature" sometimes rises up to cause problems.   It is clear from the book of 1 Corinthians that whomever this man was, he nearly destroyed the Corinthian church by his actions.  Wouldn't you have expected them to kick him out? Still, because he repented, they forgave and restored him.  By the grace of God they were able to get past personal pride and to "pour on the love" (vs. 8).  In so doing, they gave to each of our local bodies of believers a wonderful example to follow when we inevitably find ourselves ensnared by our own carnal natures.  I praise God for that.

Father, how despairing we would be if the Bible were a collection of stories about "perfect" people, since there was only one perfect Man, and they crucified Him.  Lord, please help us to see that, when we squabble and pout, we only bring dishonor to Your name in this dark world.  Honest disagreement and dialogue are healthy; pettiness and pride are sin.  Please give us the supernatural humility to avoid the latter, for the sake of our Lord and Savior, and for the advancement of His kingdom. In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Anointed, Sealed and Sure

Good morning,

Let's face it:  the apostle Paul had a strange style of writing.  I'm sure that some nuances get lost in translation, but it is easy for me to get turned around in all of the "yesses" and "nos" of 2 Corinthians 1 (NET).  This morning, we are going to focus on verses 18-22.

18 But as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the one who was proclaimed among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but it has always been “Yes” in him. 20 For every one of God’s promises are “Yes” in him; therefore also through him the “Amen” is spoken, to the glory we give to God. 21 But it is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.

Yesterday in Sunday School class one of our members brought up the doctrinal point of "security of the believer".  For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, it is the doctrine that says once you become a Christian you can't "lose" your salvation.  Some Protestant denominations, and most other denominations that call themselves "Christian" believe that a person's continuing salvation is based on how hard they work or how "good" they are.  I've blogged about this before; some of you will remember.

Yet, here we have another passage, assuring us that, once a person truly accepts Jesus Christ into his or her heart, a forever transformation occurs, which cannot be reversed.  I won't expound on all the relevant passages this morning, choosing instead to focus on this one.

So, Paul had promised the Corinthians he'd come to see them at such-and-such a time.  But, his plans and God's plans did not line up together, it seems.  He is sending this letter to them instead.  In the context of explaining his change of plans he writes the verses above, to explain that God does not change, that God keeps His promises...always.

20 For every one of God’s promises are “Yes” in him; therefore also through him the “Amen” is spoken, to the glory we give to God. 

Paul goes on to say that the biggest promise God makes to us today is to establish us who have been "anointed" in Christ.  Now, to understand this, we need to look at the Biblical process of anointing for a moment.  Anointing was a process where a person had oil applied to his body in a religious ceremony.  The purpose for this, in the presence of witnesses, was to affirm God's calling on that person's life.  Once God anointed a person (through the actual physical application of oil by another person), the calling was irreversible.  Prophets, priests and kings were anointed to their official roles. (Check the weblink under Sources: for scriptural references to this practices.)  There were other uses for anointing oil, but they are not relevant to this passage in 2 Corinthians.

Jesus was anointed by God the Father and the Holy Spirit.  This was revealed to mankind at the time of His baptism.  He was anointed prophet, priest and king, because He fulfills all three roles.  His calling was not reversible either.  Every one of God's promises are fulfilled through Jesus.  Jesus, the Son, is God the Father's "So Be It", Abba Father's "Amen" (vs. 20).

Likewise, Christians are anointed.  "How?", you ask.  We are anointed at the time of our salvation, by the Holy Spirit.  Look at verses 21 and 22 again:

20 For every one of God’s promises are “Yes” in him; therefore also through him the “Amen” is spoken, to the glory we give to God. 21 But it is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.

God has spoken His "Amen", His "so be it" (which is what "amen" means) over us!  Hallelujah! Once we accept His Son as our Savior, our hearts are forever changed.  We become a new creation in Christ Jesus.  The Holy Spirit enters our heart of hearts to remain forever.  At that point, we are given God's unbreakable seal, reflective of His certain promise to us.  The Holy Spirit is the downpayment God makes on us, marking us as His property.  From that point on, God continues to "establish" us in our relationship with His Son.  Notice that God does this, not us.  It is His glorious work in us, which should cause us to give Him the glory!

This truth makes me want to serve Him with my whole heart - - - not to earn my salvation (can't), not to keep my salvation (also can't).  My "works" are totally inadequate.  But, I do serve Him, because I love Him!

This is what the devil tries to do:  He tries to get you to doubt that you are forever Christ's.  If he can convince you that you have lost your salvation or that you can't keep your salvation or that your past sins will forever haunt you, then he has in large part stolen your joy!  Without joy, the next step is to sit ourselves "on the shelf" in discouragement.  Unh-uh!  God forbid!

Jesus Christ never meant for us to live sad, despairing, defeated lives.  In John 15:11, Jesus expressed His desire that our joy be FULL!  The psalmist, David, knew this truth through his relationship with God the Father; and in spite of his (often horrible) sins, David wrote Psalm 16. Look:

You lead me in the path of life;
I experience absolute joy in your presence;
you always give me sheer delight.

Psalm 16:11 NET

I ask: "Does he sound like a defeated person?"  No.  David would confess his sin, turn from it and then go on to embrace the joy that was his in his God.

Search your heart.  Does the Holy Spirit bear witness that you belong to Christ?  When you made your decision to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, did you accept Him only intellectually?  Or, did you accept Him with your intellect and with your heart as well?  Only with the heart can salvation occur.

10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
Romans 10:10 NIV

If you did wholeheartedly embrace Him as your Savior, move forward as a conqueror, armed with that truth.  You are anointed, sealed and sure.  God will never abandon His own.

Lord God, Abba Father, we praise Your holy name today for Your faithfulness!  It is Your faithfulness which binds us forever to Your heart.  Please continue to remind our hearts of this truth. And, please continue to establish us, to mold us more and more into the image of Your Son, our Savior.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Friday, October 23, 2015

The God of All Comfort

Good morning,

Frequent readers of this blog know I've embarked upon a study of the letters of Paul (commonly called "the Pauline epistles"). Previously, I've studied 1 and 2 Thessalonians, the first two letters we have in our Bible. They were written in 52 A.D., or thereabouts, while Paul was in Corinth, on his first trip there.  Paul visited Corinth three times, the first being during his second missionary journey. On his first visit, in 52 A.D., he stayed and taught them for a year and a half.

Having finished 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians is next in the chronological queue.  This letter was written a few months after the first; both were written in 57 A.D.  But, whereas 1 Corinthians was written from Ephesus, 2 Corinthians as written from somewhere in Macedonia, possibly at Philippi.

As you could tell from the tone of 1 Corinthians, Paul was writing mainly to correct errors that had arisen in the church since his first 18-month stay.  When his letter had not completely accomplished its intended purposes, he sent Timothy to Corinth to straighten them out (1 Cor. 4:7).  Unfortunately, this was not sufficient; so, Paul had to make a second "painful" visit to confront the culprits (2 Cor. 2:1).  Unbelievably, this STILL did not rectify the situation.  Paul then wrote what he referred to as "a severe letter", which he sent by Titus (2 Cor. 2:4-9; 7:8-12).  We are not made privy to that letter, in Scripture.  Titus, afterward, reported to Paul that the matter had been resolved.  It was after this that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians was written by Paul mainly to encourage the Corinthians.  He begins in 1:3 to praise God for His comfort, in the middle of the most severe trials.

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort that you experience in your patient endurance of the same sufferings that we also suffer. And our hope for you is steadfast because we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you will share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from so great a risk of death, and he will deliver us. We have set our hope on him that he will deliver us yet again, 11 as you also join in helping us by prayer, so that many people may give thanks to God on our behalf for the gracious gift given to us through the help of many.
2 Cor. 1:3-11

There is a school of religious thought that teaches a person will never have disappointment or sorrow or pain or heartbreak, if he or she only has enough faith.  And, conversely, if one experiences such things, it is because his or her faith is weak.  This is a distortion of Jesus' teachings on faith.  Yes, He did say that if we have enough faith we can move mountains.  However, that is only if it is God's will for that mountain to move.  We must constantly be seeking to align our wills with God's perfect will. No matter how much faith you have, if God does not want the mountain to move, it won't.

Why do I mention that?  Well, look at this passage.  Paul, that spiritual "giant" of a man, admitted to his extreme discouragement!  He had just come through a very rough time in Asia, so rough, in fact, that he was nearly killed.  He as much as said that he even wanted to die.  That's pretty discouraged, wouldn't you say?

In counterpoint to the false teaching mentioned above, listen to the promise Jesus gave us in John 16:33 (NKJV) - -

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

This promise doesn't mean we should pray for it.  It does tell us, though, that we should not be surprised by it.  It also tells us that our small part of the story is ....well, only one small part of the story.  We are to be encouraged, Jesus said, because He has overcome the world.  The story is not over.  In the end, our God wins.

So, in light of this truth, Paul begins this letter with praise to God, who comforts us in the midst of our trials.  And, sometimes, when it is in accordance with His will, He delivers us out of them, as He did to Paul in Asia.  Paul then makes a very powerful statement about the purpose of our trials (vs. 9-10).  Paul declares that his afflictions in Asia caused him to trust more fully and hope more completely in the God who raises the dead.  These trials strengthened Paul's faith.  It is God's intention that our adversities will strengthen our faith as well.

But, there is another purpose for our pain - - - that we would experience the comfort that can only come from God (vs. 4).  He is the source of all comfort for the believer; there is no one who can take His place in that role.  Those of you who have experienced the worst pain and loss this world can bring, those of you who know Him as Savior, know this truth well.  God's comfort, His consolation, strengthen and carry us during our time of pain.  As Paul did, our response should be to praise God, even in the deepest pain.  How counterintuitive to the world's way is THAT?!

The third point from this passage and the one Paul expounds upon the most is that we are allowed to experience pain, loss, grief, tragedy so that when we have come through it, by the grace of God, we will comfort others when they encounter similar circumstances.  It is so heartbreaking to see believers who react to adversity by "holing up", drawing in, sealing off from the rest of the Body of Christ, and from the rest of the world as well, to nurse anger, bitterness and unforgiveness.

I am reminded of the recent story of the believers in Charleston who were gunned down by the demon-possessed man (oh, yes, don't be fooled) during their Bible study.  Do you remember the response of the survivors and the family members?  It was to express forgiveness to that deranged man.  In that situation, part of Satan's plan was stolen from him.  In fact, it worked against him in a mighty way.  God, the only wise God, received the glory from that situation.  They could have so easily turned it into a huge civil rights event, because the gunman was white and the church members black.  They could have capitalized on the hate, thereby garnering for themselves attention, praise, cult-status.  But, they did not.  They responded with forgiveness.  What an example they are!

We are called, Paul says, to share with our brothers and sister in Christ, and indeed, with the world as well, the comfort that is in Jesus Christ, our God.  If we don't, if we sit by devoid of compassion, reservedly, while those near us suffer, are we "being" the Church?  No, we are not.  Remember this truth: any pain you have experienced was allowed you, in part, so that you can draw upon those experiences to comfort someone else.

Yesterday, I gained a new follower on Twitter: Christopher Yuan.  Most of you won't know who he is.  I do, because of my own life experiences.  Dr. Yuan is a very accomplished man.  He is also a man who struggled with homosexuality, eventually coming out of that destructive lifestyle through the power of Jesus Christ.  He wrote a book about his experiences, Out of a Far Country, and today speaks all over the world to encourage those who struggle with this potentially deadly form of sexual addiction.  (I've put an Amazon link to his book in Sources:).  Dr. Yuan has encouraged me; I was honored by his "follow".

My point in mentioning him is that he is now using the horrors he experienced earlier in life to comfort and encourage those who struggle in similar fashions.  He is an "example to the believer" (1 Timothy 4:12).

Father, You are the ultimate Encourager.  The Holy Spirit, who lives in us, is called in Greek "paraclete" - - one who goes alongside to help.  You are ever with us, and no more so than when we suffer.  May we, in imitation of You, go alongside those around us who suffer pain, loss, sickness and other calamities of this life, realizing that You permit nothing to touch Your children unless it has first passed through Your hand.  You are sovereign, and You are utterly, everlastingly good.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Wiersbe, Warren W. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2007. 502-503 Print.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pointing Up

Good morning,

The morning news anchor was just interviewing a high school football player, Dante Turo, who received an unsportsmanlike conduct call in a recent game, because he raised his hand and index finger to "point up" after making a touchdown. (See link in Sources:).

I've come to realize more and more that it's all about the glory.  Who is going to get it?

The world hates the way of God.  The whole beginning of sin had to do with a being who wanted to take the glory which was rightfully God's, and God's alone (Isaiah 14:13).  It is still that way today. The way of the world is ever to exalt man as his own god.

This is a pit that we, as Christians, must be watchful of as well.  Where is the line between satisfaction in a "job well done", and claiming the credit for yourself?  It is a hard distinction for me, personally, to make.  The apostle Paul saw this tendency in the young church of Rome.   Note his admonishment to them in Romans 12:3 (NET):

For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith.

We are also told by Paul to "rejoice in the Lord, always" (Philippians 4:4), and that includes rejoicing in God's goodness to us.  He is always good, good in all His actions.

"It is of the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not."
Lamentations 3:22 (KJV)

Consumed by what? Sin? Calamity? Yes.
We must be sure to give Him the glory that is due to Him, for His great compassion shown to us. That means to credit Him in all our accomplishments and to have a submissive spirit while doing so.

Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the LORD the glory due unto His name;
Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
Psalm 29:1-2

This young football player, my Christian brother,  had it right.  The news anchor asked him if the experience/controversy surrounding his "small" acknowledgement had strengthened his faith.  His reply was a definite "yes".  Bless Him, LORD!  His "pointing up" has strengthened the faith of many!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Ah, Lord GOD!  Help us to remember that ALL good and perfect gifts come down to us from above, from Your hand.  Even though You empower Your children as well as the ungodly to do "great" things, You are the Source of all good.  May those who do not know You come to realize that their accomplishments are precious blessings from the one, true God.  May we who DO know You always remember that You are our Source, our Strength, our All-in-all.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Final Challenge

Good morning,

I'm leaving 1 Corinthians after today's post.  Some of you may be wondering why I glossed over the "in the twinkling of an eye" passage (15:51-52).  The reason is that I dealt with that teaching in an earlier blog post on 1 Thessalonians 4, called "Archangel Thunder", several months ago.  If you want to re-visit it, here is the link:

Chapter 16 is mostly logistical. Paul urged the Corinthians to treat servants of God well who visit their congregation.  He shared greetings from those with him in Ephesus.  He exhorted them to support the spread of the gospel by periodically "taking up a collection" (a Southern USA euphemism, ripe with redundancy).  In his final words of this book (16:13-14), he reminded the Corinthians to

Stay alert, stand firm in the faith, show courage, be strong. 
Everything you do should be done in love.

For much of 1 Corinthians, Paul has been correcting this group of new believers, getting them headed in the right direction.  Beginning his final challenge, he reminds them that they must be watchful of Satan's schemes, to anticipate them even.  Elsewhere, the apostle Peter states that the adversary is like a prowling lion.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

Be diligent and proactive so that you don't get eaten up by the devil and his temptations/traps.
What are the best steps we can take to do this, to avoid the "mole holes" along the spiritual walk?
The psalmist said that taking God's Word into our spirit is the best defense.

In my heart I store up your words,
so I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11

Paul calls the Scriptures, the Word of God, his spiritual sword, a proactive weapon (Ephesians 6:17).
By meditating on God's Word daily, those truths get sown into your spirit, your heart, so that you can call upon them to counter the satanic arguments of the evil one.

When we do see a trap coming or even when one catches us unawares, we must stand firm courageously against it.  Where do we get the power to do this?  From the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, of course!  There is precious little of this type of spiritual courage today.  Frankly, it does no good to see the evil coming and then to lie down so that it rolls over us upon arrival! Considering Paul's example, he did not let the Corinthians continue on in their errant ways.  He firmly, but lovingly, corrected them.

And, that is Paul's last point.  Everything we do should be motivated by, and wrapped in, love.   There are times that "love must be tough" for the good of the recipient; but, there are never times when love is unkind or self-seeking.  Nor is love only about mere correction; ultimately, its goal is reconciliation, of brother to brother, of sinners to the one, true God.

Today is my 400th blog post.  I hope that, in sharing my devotional time thoughts with you, my love for you, my brothers and sisters, has shone through.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to share the Word with you, several days a week, and hope that I'll be able to do so for many years to come.
Soli Deo Gloria!

Father, may we each live this day as if it is our last!  May all we do be done for Your glory, with our feet firmly planted on Your Word ... our hearts filled with that supernatural love which originates only from You.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Roots, Shoots, Fruits

Good morning,

1 Corinthians 15:35-58 was written by Paul to further solidify his assertion in the previous verses that the resurrection from the dead is a certainty.  The Corinthians had many questions about this. Remember that most of them believed that Christ would return to earth during their lifetimes.  So, when many of them began to die from natural causes or to be martyred, as they all continued to age, they began to doubt other doctrinal truths.  This doubt led to their contamination by various errors.
1 Corinthians was written to correct these.

They had many questions about how it would unfold, if the resurrection from the dead was a future certainty.  The following verses were given to answer these questions.

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 Fool! What you sow will not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare seed—perhaps of wheat or something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as he planned, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. 39 All flesh is not the same: People have one flesh, animals have another, birds and fish another.40 And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly body is one sort and the earthly another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon and another glory of the stars, for star differs from star in glory.
42 It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So also it is written, “The first manAdam,became a living person”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, made of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 Like the one made of dust, so too are those made of dust, and like the one from heaven, so too those who are heavenly.49 And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven.
50 Now this is what I am saying, brothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen,
Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
WhereO deathis your victory?  Where O death is your sting?
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 58 So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Wiersbe1 points out that "resurrection is not reconstruction", the latter being what the Corinthians anticipated.  Because the supernatural transformation from seemingly nothing into a heavenly body is difficult to understand, Paul used the analogy of a seed to illustrate.  When one plants a seed, no one expects the seed itself to rise up in its planted form from the ground.  Yet, undeniably, the roots, shoots and fruits come from the seed itself.  Similarly, our earthly bodies are like "the first Adam's" - - - the Adam of Adam and Eve, our ancestors.  But, our heavenly bodies will be like ("the second Adam) Jesus Christ's resurrected body.

What will that body be like, you ask?  We are given some hints in Scripture, telling us some of the attributes of Jesus' resurrected body.  Paul plainly states in Philippians 3:20-21 that our resurrected bodies will be like His.  We know, then, that our new bodies will be incorruptible and eternal.  (However, some believe that some of what we read about Jesus' actions after the resurrection were characteristics given only to Him.  Frankly, I find no support for such in Scripture, preferring to adopt Paul's position.) If you want to explore the given characteristics of our "forever bodies", here are some references.  I'll also include a web link in the Sources: section, where you can read about several more.

*teleportation                                     His sudden appearance on the road to Emmaus   Luke 24:13-14
                                     "I must ascend to my Father"  (spoken to Magdalene at the tomb)  John 20:17

*walk through solid matter       His walking through a locked door to appear to the 12  Jn. 20:19-26
*ability to disguise oneself                Mark 16:12, Luke 24:13

Paul concludes this chapter by telling the Corinthians to be encouraged by these truths.  Holding on to such a certainty gives us, as it gave the Corinthians, the power for victorious living, for a resplendent walk, as we work for the furtherance of our Lord's kingdom.

Father, thank you for these sneak previews of the glorious future You have planned for Your children.  Since our only earthly experience has been with a troublesome, inconvenient human body, we cannot fathom how wonderful our heavenly bodies will be.  Thank you for redeeming our souls, so that we, at the moment of our deaths, will fly into the loving arms of our Savior, to be with Him forever.  And thank you for resurrecting our bodies on that day which only You know, to unite our spirits with our forever bodies.  We may be here on that amazing day; or, we may already be with our Lord and Savior, worshipping our Triune God in Your presence.  That is not for us to know.  But, You know, O majestic Lord!  Our times and seasons are in Your hands.  With love and praise, in Jesus' name, amen.


1  Wiersbe, Warren W. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2007. 495. Print.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Vicarious Baptism

Good morning,

Well, you look at that title and you think, "What in the world is she doing?"

I have to be honest.  I was not in the mood to do Bible study this morning.  I really was not.  Some mornings are just like that.  I knew that 1 Corinthians 15 was ahead of me, and I just was not very jazzed.  But, part of the reason I write this is blog is to discipline myself to daily study of the Word.
Thing is:  I'm learning that sometimes I find the unexpected.

Today, "the unexpected" took the form of 1 Corinthians 15:29-34.  Here are the verses from the NET:

29 Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they baptized for them? 30 Why too are we in danger every hour?31 Every day I am in danger of death! This is as sure as my boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If from a human point of view I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what did it benefit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 34 Sober up as you should, and stop sinning! For some have no knowledge of God—I say this to your shame!

For years I've been aware that some faiths practice baptizing their members on behalf of dead loved ones.  Most notably, the Mormons do this in our present day.  It also sprang up as a false teaching in the early Christian church. For example, Cerenthand and Marcien, two early church fathers, taught this.  It was branded as heresy by many believers, even then.

But, I never thought about or investigated where this belief originated, until I came across 1 Cor. 15:29, where it was staring me in the face.  Ahhhh, THAT's where it comes from!

You know, it is amazing to me how we just gloss over or ignore difficult passages of Scripture.  It's almost like we think that God is not big enough to get us over the hurdles.  The Bible is a complex book.  But, it is a perfect book as well, infallible.  So, what do we do when we find a Bible verse that is puzzling?  What we should do is to look at the whole fabric of Scripture and interpret the verse or passage in light of the rest of the book.  That is what we should do here.

Having said that, you should know that there are scores of different interpretations about this verse. You can see that some faiths have built entire doctrines around 1 Cor. 15:29, around this one verse. Nowhere else in the Bible are we told to baptize people on behalf of dead loved ones.  We aren't told to do that by Paul here either, for that matter.

Paul had been spending several verses reinforcing to the Corinthians the truth of the bodily resurrection from the dead.  They had gotten themselves mired in error over this issue.  Some of the Corinthians had stopped believing in a literal, bodily resurrection.  They had begun to listen to those who did not believe this scriptural teaching.  Part of the Corinthians' error had also involved corrupt association with those who use baptism inappropriately.  Paul brings this up when he uses those heretical practitioners as an example.  He has been making the point that even those practicing the heresy of vicarious baptism do so because they believe in a resurrection from the dead.  He does not mention them to affirm their heretical practice or to "enhance" Jesus' true teaching on baptism or to suggest that the Corinthians get baptized for loved ones.  He lumps these heretics into the those warned against in verse 34 - - - those who "have no knowledge of God".

This interpretation of 15:29-34 makes sense to me as a mother because, in trying to reason with an errant child (much as Paul was trying to correct the Corinthians), I will sometimes mention other wayward folk as a negative example.  Let me illustrate:
"Son, cocaine will kill you.  Stay away from it as well as from all illegal substances.  Look at your classmates, Rufus and Baldaric.  They are pot-smokers, but even they stay away from cocaine because they know it will kill you.  If cocaine is not terribly dangerous, why would Rufus and Baldaric avoid it?"
Now, do you really think that by invoking Rufus and Baldaric, the pot-smoking associates, I am encouraging my son to smoke pot?  God forbid!  But, this type of argument is what Paul is using, I believe, in this passage. Makes total sense to this mom.

You will note that no notable person in the Bible, either in the Old or New Testaments is seen being baptized on behalf on someone else, either living or dead.

A couple other interpretation of these verses I'll mention as possible true interpretations.  This is the one that John MacArthur holds.  He believes Paul mentions verse 29 to say that the witness of the dead believers leads others to salvation (and thereafter to their own living baptism).1  Warren Wiersbe believes Paul is saying that new believers are being saved and then baptized to replace the ranks in the Church of those believers who have died and gone on to their reward.2  Both of these highly respected men hold slightly different views from mine, a lowly lover of the Bible and by no means a Bible scholar of any renown whatsoever.

Regardless of which alternate explanation you choose, it is obvious by the absence of this "doctrine" anywhere else in Scripture that vicarious baptism (being baptized on behalf of someone else) is a false doctrine.  Some of you, readers of this blog, will disagree.  It is not my intention to start an argument, but to exegete the Scriptures as the Holy Spirit instructs.

What we should focus on instead is the true teaching of Paul in this chapter, that being that it is the bodily resurrection of the dead which compelled (and still compels) believers to die for their faith (15:19).  Christ was the first to be raised from the dead into a resurrection body; the bodily resurrection of us, His followers, will happen in a similar way (15:20-23).  This is "the blessed hope" Titus describes in Titus 2:13.

Father, thank you that we do not follow our Savior only in this present world, but that we have Your promise that we will be with You, our Triune God, for all eternity, in resurrected, supernatural bodies.  In Jesus' name, amen.


1  file:///Users/genahood/Downloads/ResurrectionIncentives.pdf
2  Wiersbe, Warren W. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2007. 494. Print.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Unlikely Stars

Good morning,

The Bible is such a real-life type of book.  It presents God in as much of His glory as we can handle with our human limitations.  And, it also presents humans in their range of ridiculous to sublime. Thank God for both presentations!

Take the story of Hagar, for instance.  Hagar was a maidservant to Sarah, Abraham's wife.  When Sarah continued to be barren, even when stared down by the repeated promises of God to the contrary, she devised a plan (common in those days) to get a son by letting her husband procreate with Hagar.  Hagar conceived and Ishmael was born.  Later on in the story Hagar was banished from the camp, along with her teenage son.  They were sent off into the desert, where they would have died if God had not rescued them. (Genesis 21).  This was not the first time that Hagar had been rescued by God in the desert.  When she saw that she had conceived by Abraham she began to flaunt the "accomplishment" in front of Sarah, her mistress, to the point that Sarah kicked her out of the camp.  On that occasion, "the angel of the Lord", which most believe to be, not a regular angel, but instead a physical appearance of Jehovah God, appeared to rescue Hagar.  We know this from Hagar's response in Genesis 16:13 (NET).

The Lord’s angel found Hagar near a spring of water in the desert—the spring that is along the road to Shur. He said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She replied, “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai.”
Then the Lord’s angel said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her authority.10 I will greatly multiply your descendants,” the Lord’s angel added, “so that they will be too numerous to count.” 
13 So Hagar named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “Here I have seen one who sees me!” 

Here's the amazing part.  Hagar had been pretty much a "nobody". She was an Egyptian slave girl, probably acquired by Sarah on one of her trips to Egypt with her husband.  Even so, we read in Genesis 16 that God Himself physically appeared to her.

This was not Hagar's original plan.  I'm quite sure she:
*never intended to become a maidservant
*never intended to bear Abraham's child
*never intended to be sent out into the wilderness, not once but twice
*never intended to see God face-to-face
*never intended to be the mother of all Arab peoples.
It just was not in her plan.
But, it was in God's plan.

Or, consider Paul.  He had a grand plan.  He was raised in a well-to-do Jewish family from Cyprus, a mediterranean island.  He was a very highly regarded, very ardent Jew.  He zealously persecuted Christians, whom he viewed as a blight on the face of Judaism, a pox that had to be eradicated, a heretical fringe element to be expunged!  And, his plan was to destroy that fledgling cult.  He pursued his goal with all his might, killing Christians left and right.
But this was not God's plan.  1 Corinthians 15:8-10 - - 

Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

"He appeared to me also."  Paul came to see that he was of the same stature as the original 12 disciples, because a mark of such a person was that they had seen Jesus, face-to-face.  Can't you just hear the wonder in Paul's voice?  He admits it was as if he had been born at the wrong time!  He marvels at the amazing acts of God, His unsearchable ways.

Paul also marvels at the fact that, of all people, he least deserved God's favor.  A lot of us feel that way and, unfortunately, we get stuck there.  I have a friend who absolutely cannot see herself as God sees her.  I think that all of us have this problem to some degree or another, but for some of us, it is incapacitating, making our lives for Christ "lived in vain".  The key to walking resplendent is to first see ourselves as God sees us: redeemed in Christ, restored, forgiven, free.  And then, knowing this living in light of those truths, that glorious, liberating grace.

Paul recognized that it was through God's amazing grace that he was all those things, and only through His grace.  You'll notice that he caught himself almost taking credit in verse 10, almost saying that it was his hard work that had brought him to a place of zealously serving Jesus Christ. Then, he stopped himself, to give credit where credit was due.

The point is this:  it does not matter so much where you start out.  What matters is where you end up. If you think otherwise you are deceived.  We are all where we are because of the grace of God, not because of our own "good plans".  On the other hand, you may have made some truly horrible choices.  The path along the way may not be the one you wanted to walk or planned to walk.  But, God is greater than your choices!  He can still fashion you into a star in his kingdom in spite of your past!  Did he not do that for Paul?

If you embrace Jesus Christ as Savior and seek to follow Him with your whole heart, you are going to be just where God wants you to be, regardless of the outward circumstances. Believe that!  Embrace it, and thank God for it.

All of us who follow Christ are "unlikely stars".

Father, I thank you that each one of us, your children, is special in your eyes.  You have a plan for each of us; none of us is insignificant to You.  Help us to see ourselves as the princes and princesses you have made us, through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Give us a clear picture of the heritage we received when we received Jesus.  And then, Lord God, urge us through Your Holy Spirit to walk in it, not bound by our past, but...resplendent.  In Jesus' name, amen.