Archive for the ‘#examinedfaith’ Tag

On the Potter’s Wheel   1 comment

What Life Events Shaped You Into Who You Are?

If you could think about all the events that unfolded in your life, which ones shaped you into who you are now?

ALL of the events? How about just the highlights? I suspect I am shaped even by the minute interactions I have with people in the grocery store line … I’m just unaware of it.

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When I was six years old, Fairbanks Alaska experienced a 100-year flood. It’s such a big deal here that people still date things as pre-Flood and post-Flood. A lot of us spent a couple of weeks living out of the backs of cars and eating WW2 K-rations salvaged from the flooded bomb shelters. My parents struggled with housing after that due to a string of rental houses with ruined furnaces and I ended up spending the winter with a friend of theirs who had a bunch of kids and a working heating system.

Image result for image clay on potters wheelThat experience taught me a lot about being tough to get through something because the water will eventually go down and your parents will eventually stop moving and you’ll get to live in a house with a bedroom again. But it also taught me to not really trust that this reality will be permanent and good. It won’t be. Rivers can raise again. Don’t get too comfortable. Keep some food in reserve and be ready to move what you care about to higher floors. Borrowing from a blog hop post a couple of weeks ago … winter is coming. Be prepared.

When I was 11, a teacher made me write a story for a class assignment. I HATED it. It was way too regimented for my tastes. But it set something off in me that made me the writer I am today. It certainly didn’t turn me off writing. It made me want to do a better job. Maybe I would have become a writer anyway, but I count that as a formative event.

My dad died when I was 12 and my mother promptly remarried her ex-husband. Earl had always been around. He was my brother’s father and Fairbanks was a small town. My dad tolerated his woman’s ex. I have a photo of them sitting on the bleachers at a baseball game. I guess they were friends … sort of. My brother says my dad was his model for being a stepfather … not bad considering he never lived with us. Earl had just moved back to town and happened to have his trailer parked in our back yard when my dad died of a stroke at a young age. He was supportive during a tough time. He still loved my mom. She may have felt she needed a man in her life. He wasn’t a bad guy … mostly. But I swore to myself that I would never be as faithless as my mother had been. I didn’t hate my mom for her decision. I didn’t hate Earl. I simply didn’t agree with their actions in that area and that meant that I have been much more careful in my relationships than they were. I noted their path and have tried very hard not to walk it.

When I was 16, I accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of my life. It wasn’t something we did as a family. I started going to church on my own and my parents thought I’d lost my mind when I tried to tell them about it. More than anything else, this changed my perspective on the world and my life choices. I’ve skipped a lot of rough roads that were options for me because I would pause often and ask if this was something a Christian ought to be doing. It has shaped many of my choices in my adult life.

I chose to work my way through college rather than take out student loans. My parents came from a debt-adverse generation. My father turned 16 the year the Great Depression started. My mother was six. They were careful with their money and only took on debt for houses and even then, the longest mortgage they ever took out was 10 years. They saved a little bit for me to go college, but I had to pay 75% of it. When the high school counselor was talking about student loans, I felt this big lump in my chest … like a lead weight threatening to drag me to the bottom of a deep, dark ocean. I decided to get a job and work my butt off to pay for college. I had help from Pell grants, but mostly, I paid my own way, either working while I was in school or working 2 or 3 jobs seasonally so I could concentrate on school during the winter. Except for two years when my daughter was little, I’ve been gainful employed since I was 14 years old, sometimes with more than one job. There is a great deal to be said about paying your own way and understanding your own value. It has a lot to do with why I view the world as I do.

I married Brad when I was 25. He makes me laugh until I can’t breathe and almost wet my pants. He has also made me cry … a lot. When our daughter was little, her dad and I went through a very rough time in our marriage when we decided it would not end in divorce, but we were separated for a while. I learned that you can’t change someone, but you can change your response to them so that, if they want to be with you, they will (sometimes) choose to change themselves. And if they don’t, then the choices you make won’t be fun, but God will be with you even then.

My life is not a field of clover today. Life will always hand you challenges. My daughter is a gypsy bluegrass musician who appears to be hiking through Canada with low-lives. It’s not my choice and I wish I could step in and intervene, but my own past teaches me that I can’t. People have to learn on their own and a long walk through Canada is maybe just what my little vagabond needs to grow up. She needs her own formative experiences. I have to trust God that He has a plan in all of this and I’ll understand it next year or a decade from now. Or maybe Bri will in 30 years.

We are the sum total of our experiences. God is the Master Potter Who has tossed me on His wheel and is shaping me to His purposes. “A potter has the right to do what he wants to with his clay, doesn’t he? He can make something for a special occasion or something for ordinary use from the same lump of clay.” Romans 9:21

Judging the Church   Leave a comment

The first four chapters of 1 Corinthians focus on the problem of fleshly divisions within the church. Little factions, each with their own leader, had arisen. Worldly wisdom was embraced in place of the wisdom of God in Christ. Pride was a distinguishing feature of these Corinthians. In their false pride, the Corinthians began to judge Paul (and other apostles) unfairly, and to look down upon him, his ministry, and his message. Paul had gently rebuked these saints, and at the end of chapter 4, he urged them to heed his admonition so that he would not have to come to them “with a rod” (4:21).

Image result for image of christian courtsWhile the Corinthians were wrongly dividing over petty distinctions, they were unwilling to separate themselves from a church member who persisted in a sin so abominable that even the pagans of very rowdy Corinth were shocked. Paul rebuked the church for failing to exercise church discipline on a man who was living with his father’s wife. Paul informed the church of his action, even from afar, and urged them to follow his example. They had somehow misunderstood his previous letter, supposing that he was teaching that Christian separation is separation from unbelieving sinners. Paul corrected this misconception not just for them, but for us as well.

The divisions Paul spoke of theoretically in chapter 4 are now addressed specifically in chapter 6. Paul sought to show the Corinthians the “higher road” of morality, which doesn’t come from civil laws but from the gospel.

When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints? 1 Corinthians 6:1

Paul had been exceedingly gentle in the previous chapters, only indirectly introducing the problem of divisions in the church. How dare the Corinthian Christians air their disagreements out before the unrighteous rather than go before the church!

Paul was distressed on many levels in this topic:

  • Disputes were erupting between believers in the church. Christians were at odds with one another.
  • These disputes between believers were being taken to the secular courts by these Corinthian believers.
  • Unbelieving judges were being asked to arbitrate between Christians.
  • When these disputes were taken before unbelieving judges, the whole ugly ordeal was carried out before the curious eyes of unbelieving spectators. The world gets to watch these Christians fight with one another in court.
  • These disputes had not been taken to the church, where they belong.

Remember what Jesus said about church discipline in Matthew 18? Disputes between believers should be resolved as privately as possible within the church, unless the wayward saint chooses to disregard the church, in which case that individual should be publicly disfellowshipped. Instead of these two individuals at Corinth going through this process, they took their grievances to the local courts to seek a judgment from an unbelieving judge. Paul was flabbergasted.

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters! So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow ChristiansInstead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers? 1 Corinthians 6:2-6

Paul asked a sequence of questions which indirectly exposed the pathetic condition of the saints at Corinth. Five times in this chapter Paul asks the question, “Do you not know…?” This strikes a very hard blow at the pride of the Corinthians, who think themselves so very wise, and Paul so very naive and provincial in his thinking. I suspect Paul had already taught on these subjects and was flabbergasted that they had forgotten.

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (see Daniel 7:21-22, 27;  Matthew 19:28; Revelation 20:4.

Paul assumes they do know it, and that their actions are completely contradictory to their theology. If Christians are going to reign with Christ and participate in the judgment of the world, how in the world could these Corinthians turn to the unsaved for judgment? If the righteous will judge the unrighteous at the Second Coming, how could the Corinthian Christians look to a heathen to judge the righteous

Do the Corinthians not know that they will be judging the angels? (See Isaiah 24:21-22; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Revelation 20:10)

If they know, why would they feel they are unable to judge in trivial matters of this life?

Both the Old and New Testament scriptures are clear that the saints will judge the world. However, there is no clear statement in the Old or New Testaments (other than this statement by Paul) that the saints will judge the angels. It is not a great reach to infer this, however. The saints will reign with Christ when He comes and establishes His kingdom. When Christ judges the world, we will participate. Through Jesus, God will also judge the angels . If this judging of the angels is also a part of Jesus’s reign, and if we shall reign with Him, then we too will judge the angels. Furthermore Paul, as an apostle, was given the authority to reveal that which is a mystery in the Old Testament. If the Corinthians had begun to trust in other (false) apostles, then perhaps it was time they reconsidered their source of authority and revelation. If they were listening to Paul, they would know such things.

Verse 4 is understood in a number of different ways, depending upon the translation. I prefer the translation (paraphrase) of J. B. Phillips: “In any case, if you find you have to judge matters of this world, why choose as judges those who count for nothing in the church?”  If the saints will judge both the world and the angels at the coming of Christ, why in the world would they turn to the world’s judicial system to pronounce judgment in a dispute between two believers? Paul had just written in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, that natural men cannot understand thing Spirit of God, so why would church members turn to them for judgment in spiritual things?

Wasn’t there even one wise person among the Corinthians who was qualified to judge the dispute between these two believers? This church thought it was very wise. They were so quick to judge Paul and find him wanting. They proudly followed one leader and condemned the rest. Where were these Corinthian “wise men” when they were needed? They were very good at judging when they wanted, so why was no one able to judge such mundane matters? Believers were at each other’s throats before the world.

The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? But you yourselves wrong and cheat, and you do this to your brothers and sisters!

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this wayBut you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:7-11

For the competitive Corinthians, life was all about winning and losing. Lawsuits are certainly about winning and losing. Paul argued that any Corinthian Christian who took another believer to court had already lost. Going to court with a fellow-believer is a no-win situation. The better way is to take the loss. Yeah, Paul is telling us that it is better to be a victim than a victor. We want to argue against that because we don’t want to take a loss because of our pride. We don’t want to let the other person get the better of us. We don’t want to lose — money, possessions, prestige …. We protect and exercise our rights, no matter what the cost to others. Our rights are unlimited … the other guy’s can be limited.

Christians are supposed to have an utterly different value system from the unbeliever. When Jesus invited men to follow Him, they were instructed to “take up their cross daily” to follow Him. Thus, the Christian is a person whose life is dominated and directed by the cross of Calvary. It was on the cross of Calvary that Jesus was wronged to bring about our salvation.The wrongful death of Christ is the model for the Christian (see 1 Peter 2, 18-25). This is the reason Jesus taught His disciples not to retaliate, but to return good for evil (Matthew 5:43-48). Paul teaches us similarly (Romans 12:17-21). Jesus taught that if a man forces you to go a mile, you should go two miles instead (Matthew 5:41). The one who asks of us should receive from us (Matthew 5:42). Our goal in life is not to accumulate possessions or to protect and preserve them. We are to give all these things up, gladly. Our attitude should not be to seek our own interests ahead of others, but rather to seek the interests of others ahead of our own (Philippians 2:1-8). This being the case, we should be willing to be wronged and defrauded, especially for the sake of the gospel and for the testimony of the church.

Yes, I am an individual rights advocate, but the non-aggression principle teaches that my rights are not more important than the other person’s rights.

It is a terrible thing for a Christian to take another Christian to court. In verses 1-7, Paul addressed the plaintiff, the one who felt offended or ill-treated and urged him to take his grievance to the church and to risk suffering loss rather than damage the reputation of the church and hinder the gospel by exposing the sins of a brother to the world. Love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). Paul then turned to the defendant, who might have been feeling self-satisfied at that moment, comforted by Paul’s rebuke of his adversary. Paul didn’t left him off the hook, though.

If the plaintiff must be willing to be wronged and defrauded, it’s not an invitation for others to wrong and defraud. Some of these Corinthians Christians are crooks, and they prey upon their fellow Christians. Paul warned them that heaven is not a haven for sinners, but a blessed sanctuary for those who have been saved, whose sins have been forgiven because they have forsaken their sins. Some Corinthian Christians were once sinners with sinful lifestyles, but that was the past, and this was the present. Paul provided a broad and all-inclusive list of their sins that include:

  • those who commit sexual sin outside of marriage (idolaters),
  • those who serve other gods of various kinds (idolaters),
  • those who commit sexual sins against their partner in marriage (adulterers),
  • passive (effeminate) and active (homosexuals) sexual deviates.
  • thieves
  • those who lust for what others possess (the covetous),
  • alcoholics (drunkards),
  • those who speak against others (revilers), and
  • con artists (swindlers).

This is a sampling of those who won’t make it into heaven because heaven is a holy place, because God dwells there. Consequently, unholy people will not be there.

The Corinthian church included people who had previously lived such sinful lives, but when they were saved, this became a past, which should be forgotten and forsaken. Salvation includes repentance. Repentance means that we not only agree with God that we are sinners, doomed to eternal torment, and that Christ’s righteousness will save us, but also that we turn from a life of sin to a life of righteousness. Of course this does not mean that we will live a life of sinless perfection. It means we can’t keep on living in sin, as we once did while we were unsaved. Salvation is the process of turning from darkness to light, from death to life, from sin to righteousness. Salvation means that we should never consider continuing on in sin, even though God’s grace is greater than all our sin (see Romans 6:1).

That’s a sobering thought! The gospel is about sinners who are turned from sin to righteousness. It is one of the greatest comforts for the Christian. What we were as unbelievers, we are not now as Christians. Our sins of the past are not only forgiven, they are forgotten by God. God doesn’t treat us like felons on parole. The Christian who was once a thief is not just an ex-thief; he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, replaced by a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17). What we once were as an unbeliever, we will never be again. No sinner is too far gone for God to save.

Paul had a very different view of the relationship of the past to the present than that popularly held by many psychologists and psychiatrists today. In the psychological world of our day, what one was in the past determines what he is in the present. This is why so much time and money is spent digging up the past. It makes a great excuse for sin in the present. Paul’s thinking was just the opposite for Christians. What we were in the past does not determine what we are today, because the cross of Christ separates us not only from our sins but from our past. Christ stands between us in the present and us as we were in the past. What we were is not what we are. The cross of Christ is the reason why we can be now what we were not then. Christians cannot and must not be crooks. It is not because Christians cannot sin, but because they must not sin. For a Christian to be a crook is for a person to return to that wicked state from which he or she was delivered by the grace of God in Christ.

When we were saved, we were completely saved, severed from our past identity and given a new identity. We were washed, cleansed of our sin and our guilt. We were sanctified, set apart from sin unto holiness. We were justified, legally declared righteous through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputed to us by faith. All of this transpired in the name of Jesus Christ.

Paul rebuked the Corinthian saints for failing to resolve their disputes with one another within the church. Paul wanted his readers to see the folly of taking spiritual matters before unbelievers, who have no grasp of the real issues. Paul knew, as the Corinthians should have known, that the legal system deals with the protection of men’s rights and the seeking of one’s self-interest, while the gospel is about the surrender of one’s rights and the seeking of the best interests of others. If the dispute cannot be resolved within the church, Paul advocated that the offended party suffer the loss, for the sake of the gospel. In no case should any Christian think that breaking the laws of man or God is something a person can continue after coming to faith in Christ, as though this doesn’t matter. Crooks do not go to heaven. Only saints do.

Why did Paul take this situation in Corinth so seriously? He was gentler with them over condoning sexual immorality in the church than he was about lawsuits between Christians. The issue is the unity of the church, the body of Christ. The church is one body, and believers are all brothers. The focus of each believer is to build up the body of Christ, which means that he must build up individual believers. Taking a fellow-believer to court is not what building up is about. Generally, we take another person to court to take him apart. The church is a temple, the dwelling place of a holy God. To destroy the temple by attacking its members is to invite divine destruction (3:16-17). Lawsuits in Corinth were a denial of the gospel. To continue to act as we formerly did as sinners denies the radical change the gospel makes. We were sinners; we are now saints, a holy nation, declaring the excellencies of Him who saved us (1 Peter 2:1-11). As Christians, we cannot persist in thinking and acting as we formerly did, apart from Christ.

Introduction to 1Corinthians   Leave a comment

Brad and I have been renewing an acquaintance with a man who used to be a good friend and in doing so, we’re confronting a lot of our beliefs and his. This man claims to be a Christian. In fact, he used to be our Sunday School teacher. But he went seriously off the rails a few years back, which contributed to the church we were attending at the time going seriously off the rails and our family deciding to attend another church. He no longer attends our old church either, which is probably a good thing … for that church and possibly for him. He still comes around to us now and again and we still care about him, so we’ve been discussing our appropriate response toward him. As always, we turn to the Bible for guidance.

First Corinthians is a tough book in modern times because Paul might as well be preaching to 21st century Christians. In other words, it is a perfect book for today when Christians have so many voices trying to tell them how they should live. Early Christians, some of whom had met Jesus in the flesh, recognized Paul’s letters as something special, worthy to be preserved, copied and distributed. Peter himself alludes to Paul’s writings as “from God”. We ought to pay attention to what those who knew Jesus personally thought was scripture because these people would have objected if it ran counter to what Jesus taught.

Before we begin our study of the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, it would be good for us to view the book as a whole. Why? Because 1Corinthians was not written as a series of disconnected verses or passages that someone stuck together into a book, but as a letter to a specific group of believers — people Paul knew — about specific circumstances. as summarized in this outline:

The letter can be outlined in this way:

1:1-9

Introduction: Salutation (verses 1-3) and thanksgiving (verses 4-9)

1:10–4:21

Dealing with divisions within the church

5:1–6:20

Dealing with sin that separates believers from God

7:1–10:33

Questions answered

11:1–14:40

Church Conduct—Diversity without divisions

15:1-58

The Doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ

16:1-24

Conclusion—Getting Personal

I wonder how most Christians would feel about being sent to a church like the one in Corinth, as described in the two epistles of Paul to the Corinthians. I suspect most of us would hesitate to be planted there because, from a purely human point of view, the church in Corinth appears to be hopeless.

Yet, Paul’s introductory statements were positive, upbeat, and optimistic. His prayers concerning this church were filled with expressions of thanksgiving. That doesn’t make sense. How could Paul be so positive and optimistic as he communicated with this church? Some would like to say that Paul actually was commending this church for its attitudes, but when you read his actual works, it’s clear that he didn’t condone the conduct of many of its members.

It’s tempting to skip over Paul’s salutation, as if it were just a boiler plate greeting that means nothing, but in our studies, Brad and I realized that Paul began to lay out a theological foundation for his ministry and the teaching he presented throughout the letter.

With the elaborations of this letter Paul begins a habit that will carry through to the end. In each case the elaborations reflect, either directly or subtly, many of the concerns about to be raised in the letter itself. Even as he formally addresses the church in the salutation, Paul’s mind is already at work on the critical behavioral and theological issues at hand. Gordon D. Fee, “The First Epistle to the Corinthians” (Grand Rapis, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), page 28

Paul’s letter was written within a certain context. It fits into history which comes down to us in the Book of Acts. At the end of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, the Jerusalem Council met to decide just what should be required of Gentile converts (Acts 15:1-29). When Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways, Paul took Silas with him and set out on a second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41) while Barnabas went on a separate journey with John Mark. Paul and Silas began by revisiting some of the churches that had been founded on the first journey, primarily delivering the decision of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 16:4-5).

After being divinely prohibited from preaching in Asia (Acts 16:6) and Bithynia, Paul, Silas, and Timothy ended up at Troas, where Paul received the “Macedonian vision” (16:9-10), which brought them to Philippi where a number were saved and a church was established. From Philippi, Paul and his party went to Thessalonica, then to Berea, and finally to Athens (Acts 17). From Athens, Paul went to Corinth, the seat of government of the Roman province of Achaia. Paul met Aquila and his wife Priscilla in Corinth. Like Paul, they were tentmakers. They had fled from Italy because of a command from Claudius that all Jews must leave Rome (Acts 18:1-3). Every Sabbath, Paul went to the synagogue, where he sought to evangelize Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:4). Eventually, Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia to join Paul at Corinth. Apparently, they brought a gift from the Macedonians which enabled Paul to fully devote himself to the Word, so that he gave all of his efforts to preaching Christ (Acts 18:5).

Paul’s preaching prompted a hostile reaction from the unbelieving Jews, so he left the synagogue and began to concentrate on evangelizing Gentiles (Acts 18:6-7). Paul moved his headquarters to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a Gentile “God-fearer” who lived near the synagogue (Acts 18:5-7). Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, became a believer and brought his household to the Lord. Many other Corinthians were also being saved and submitting to baptism (Acts 18:8). The Lord appeared to Paul in a vision, assuring him that there were many more souls to be saved in that city and that he was not to fear. He was to speak out boldly and not hold back for fear of trouble (Acts 18:9-10). As a result, Paul extended his ministry in Corinth, staying a total of 18 months, which was a longer period of ministry than in almost any other town.

Paul’s lengthy ministry was facilitated, in part, by a ruling of Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia (18:12-17). The Jews seized Paul and brought him up on charges before Gallio, accusing him of being neither a faithful Jew nor a good citizen, that he was speaking and acting against the Law of God and the law of Rome. Paul wasn’t given the opportunity to speak in his own defense. Gallio simply gave his ruling, seeing this strife between Paul and the Jews as yet another instance of the in-fighting which was so typical of the Jews. Fed up with this situation, Gallio refused to be used by these Jewish zealots to prevail over their Jewish rivals. He threw them and their case out of court.

Gallio was a pagan who cared nothing for the Jews, the gospel, or Paul, but his ruling was a landmark decision, officially legitimizing and protecting those who preached the gospel throughout the entire Roman Empire. Judaism was an official religion, recognized and sanctioned by the Roman government. The Jews were seeking to convince Gallio that Paul was really no Jew and that the preaching of the gospel was not the practice of Judaism. They inferred Paul was a threat to the stability of Roman rule and that neither Paul nor any other Christian should be allowed to preach the gospel under the permission and protection of the Roman law. When Gallio refused to rule on this matter, calling it a Jewish squabble, he declared Paul’s preaching of the gospel to be a practice of Judaism. As far as Gallio could see, Christianity was a Jewish sect and thus protected by Roman law. This meant Paul’s ministry was legal, and any Jewish opposition could not claim Rome as their ally.

The Jews were furious. In retaliation, they seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began to beat him in front of the proconsul, who looked on with disdain, mostly unimpressed and thoroughly unconcerned. This Sosthenes seems to be the same person who is with Paul as he writes to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 1:1).

 After about 18 months of ministry in Corinth, Paul set out for Syria with Priscilla and Aquila. On reaching Ephesus, Paul ministered for a short time, promising to return if the Lord willed (Acts 18:19-21). He left Priscilla and Aquila there and journeyed on to Caesarea, Jerusalem and Antioch (Acts 18:18-22). After visiting the churches in Asia Minor, Paul returned to Ephesus, where he taught in the school of Tyrannus for two years. While in Ephesus, it appears he received unfavorable reports about the Corinthian church which prompted him to write his first letter to this church. This letter was not preserved as a part of the New Testament canon (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). We don’t know why or what became of it. It’s one of the questions I want to ask when I see Paul in heaven. Given the overall consistency of Paul’s entire body of writing, it is unlikely that this letter would vastly change his message to the Corinthians … or to us in the 21st century.

Later, while Paul was still ministering in Ephesus, he heard from some of “Chloe’s people” that divisions were emerging in the church at Corinth and that there was a case of gross immorality in the church. Instead of feeling shame and sorrow over this sin, at least some of the Christians in Corinth were proud of their tolerance (chapter 5), which might sound somewhat familiar to us today. Paul also heard of Christians taking their fellow-believers to court, seeking to have pagans pass judgment on spiritual matters (chapter 6), of unbecoming conduct at the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11) and of doctrinal error concerning the resurrection (chapter 15). A three-man delegation consisting of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus arrived from Corinth (1Corinthians 16:17) bringing a letter which asked Paul about marriage (1Corinthians 7:1), virgins (7:25), food sacrificed to idols (8:1), spiritual gifts (12:1), the collection for the saints (16:1), and Apollos (16:12). Paul then wrote 1 Corinthians in response to the reports and questions he had received.

Posted January 22, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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This is Love   Leave a comment

When Jesus was asked to love the world composed of individuals, He carried His own cross the Calvary. For those of you who think God is a cosmic meanie who delights in abusing mere mortals, just take a pause and consider that for a moment. Jesus was God Incarnate – God in the flesh — and He chose to go to the cross for your sake, even if you hate Him.

In 1945 Roddie Edmonds, a 26-year-old US Army Master Sergeant, was the highest-ranking soldier among the 1292 American POWs in the camp. Circumstances had made him their commander, responsible for their well-being. He’d been in the camp for a month when the German commandant ordered all Jewish American soldiers to line up outside the barracks the next morning.

Edmonds told his men “We’re not doing that. We’re all falling out.”

Image result for image of grocery checkout hellThe commandant knew all 1300 men could not be Jews. He knew there were about 200. When he ordered Edmonds to identify them, Edmonds, an evangelical Christian, insisted they were all Jews. The commandant put a pistol to his head and again demanded that he identify the Jews.

 

Somehow, when most men couldn’t think, Edmonds rattled off his name, rank and serial number. He then reminded the commandant that if he shot Edmonds, he’d have to shoot the entire 1300 and that would assure that the commandant would be tried for war crimes since everybody knew it is was just a matter of time before the Americans won the war. The commandant walked away. Months later, Edmons and his men were rescued.

We’d all like to think we would show the same resolve as Edmonds did in similar circumstances. I suspect I’d wet my pants. Would I have started identifying the Jews? I don’t know. Survival is a pretty high ideal of mine. With a gun to my head, I’m not sure if I could have thought so clearly.

Pastor Chris Edmonds, who only recently learned of his father’s bravery, points out that none of the men under Edmonds’ command pointed out the Jews. “They all stood together.” Chris Edmonds adds that his father’s story “is a clarion call to love one another regardless of our choices or faith. He stood against oppression. He stood for decency. He stood for humanity. This thing we call life – it’s about all of us, not one of us.”

Jesus gave up His human life for all of us, though we still come to Him as individuals. In the Western world, we think of love as a personal relationship with another person, but that “love” appears dependent upon what the other person does for us. The Greeks had a whole vocabulary for “love” that included mere lust, friendship love and agape love, which is the big expansive love for our fellow human beings that can express itself as caring for the well-being of another group of people without thought for our own well-being. It’s more than a personal love. Edmonds showed that love in practice.

That day in 1945, Edmonds’ decision was to love the men under his command with his own life. He didn’t choose to be an individual that day, but to live or die as a member of his troop. Maybe the commandant was actually bluffing that day, but I suspect the authority of agape love somehow overwhelmed his own authority. He couldn’t pull the trigger because he too recognized the love that Edmonds was representing.

Agape love doesn’t just happen on the battlefield. Christians are called to express it in every circumstance. Yeah, the world is full of jerks, but that doesn’t mean we have to become jerks ourselves. Brad absolutely hates to go through the checkout line at the market because there’s always someone there doing something stupid. They can’t figure out how to scan one item or they are in the “less than 15” line with 30 items or they can’t find their POS card. He gets himself all worked up inside his head and he carries that anger with him after he leaves the store. He tends not to say anything aloud. That would be me, but I’m irritated far less often … not that it makes a bit of difference to our relationship with Jesus, our fellow shoppers or with ourselves. The thing about sin is that it occurs within us before it leaks out to the surface. It’s our thoughts and actions that cast a shadow on our day, not the actions of the other shopper. Oh, yeah, we justify our irritation. We were right and they were wrong.

And yet, as we drive away, we may be tense and fuming, causing damage to our own bodies. We blame the world for not yielding up the perfect set of circumstances. We comfort ourselves that the other shopper was at fault, not our weakness of character. We tell ourselves that people like Roddie Edmonds are special and that the range of human choices is different for us than for them.

People like Edmonds will seem rare until more of us honor our mutual interdependence as we encounter the small things in life. When faced with a big challenge our self-serving behavior may kick in because our muscles to practice agape are flabby. There’s no reason to hate ourselves for that. We just need to learn to see the world through Jesus’ eyes. When we give into the anger that the world seems to bring about, then we only hurt ourselves and our witness as Christians.

Take a moment. Take a deep breath. Resolve to do better next time. Remember, we’re all in this world together … and God no doubt had a reason for doing it that way.

Posted January 15, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Examined living

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A Thought for the Season   Leave a comment

It’s a basic point of fact that you don’t miss what you’ve never had. I don’t miss palm trees at Christmas because I’ve never experienced Christmas somewhere warm. My friend Sylvia is from Australia. She finds snow at Christmas a really odd concept that interferes with the picnic at the beach.

Image result for image of merry christmasSimilarly, because I was raised in Alaska before the Carter administration, by people who were born well before World War 2, I understand something of freedom where many folks … like my blue-bubble-dwelling sister-in-law (whom I love!) do not.

“I’m just about as free as I want to be,” Ana proclaims.

Here’s the problem. How can she really know what she’s missing if she’s never had experienced it before? The less free we are, the less we know what freedom feels like and and the less we understand how it shapes who we are. The more dependent on government we become, the less we crave independence. This is why it is important to find literature that takes us out of our present moment and introduces us to different ways of thinking.

We have to imagine a different ideal, or read an author who did it for us. I’m now reading a book that came out right at the end of the Gilded Age, just before the US adopted the permanent income tax and the Fed and became entangled in World War I. It is the last unclouded look at the mindset of what should be called the real “greatest generation.”

Orison Swett Marden (1850-1924) is the author of The Joys of Living. You can download an epub his book on this link.

I first bumped into his writing when researching the entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age. He turns out to be the great psychologist and sociologist of the generation that built the modern age in America. He was a physician, a hotel owner, and a fantastic thinker and writer. He was the editor of Success magazine, a hugely influential publication during the age when Americans adored their inventors and entrepreneurs.

I admire the time he lived in because it was built by unleashing of the capitalist spirit in the second half of the 19th century. It was the height of the age of laissez faire. Slavery was gone. Women gained authentic rights. Upward social mobility was a common expectation. Lives lengthened. Infant mortality fell dramatically.

In one generation, creative and motivated people could move from poor immigrant to wealthy benefactor of museums. The rich of yesterday became the middle class of today, even as tomorrow would mint the newly rich, and the process continued without end, each advance touching everyone throughout society with new products, new services, and new forms of communication and transportation. It all seemed to point to a future of peace and prosperity. Such inventions were celebrated in great public spectacles called World’s Fairs.

It was a time when incomes were not taxed — a major factor in why it could be accumulated to become powerful investment capital. Most schooling was private or community based. There was no professional licensure. There were no passports. There was not a single regulatory bureaucracy in Washington. There was no welfare state. No one had yet experienced a world war.

Orison Swett Marden was the public intellectual who made sense of it all. A serious journalist, a great thinker, and a wonderful writer, his outlook embodied the ebullient optimism of the Gilded Age. He studied the phenomenon of progress, trying to discern its causes. He located them in the hearts and minds of the men and women who made the difference. He devoted his life to chronicling their lives and the lives of those they touched with their creativity and generosity.

“The greatest conqueror of age is a cheerful, hopeful, loving spirit.”

The point was not to celebrate privilege, but rather to see the possibilities available to every person. Marden himself was like many of the first-generation rich of this period. He came from poverty and had faced family hardship as he worked his way out of difficulty to find promise and reward. He saw how the sacrifices made in youth turn to a bounty in middle age. He understood the cause and effect operation of the universe — hard work, dedication, determination, and dreams could remake one’s world and the world around them.

The greatest discovery of the time was not a technology, but a philosophy that understood the individual human mind was the most productive resource on the planet — more powerful than all natural resources or man-made machinery. The human mind was the real engine of progress and prosperity.

Previous generations believed they were trapped by fate, class, social position, or forces more powerful than themselves. The Gilded Age generation saw the truth that nothing could contain an idea whose time had come, so long as there were great men and women around who believed in it and acted upon it. This is why so many notable men of his time cited Marden as their inspiration:  Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and J.P. Morgan.

Marden’s recipe came with three ingredients: seeing, emulating, and acting. Nothing was impossible. No one was faced with circumstances that would invalidate them from doing something in life. The source of joy is around us, but we have to seek it, see it, embrace it, and expand upon it.

Daily discouragements and obstacles are unavoidable features of life. They exist in all times and places. You can never get rid of the enemies of your personal progress, but you can make the most of things as they are. We all blunder, make mistakes, and have plenty of reason to criticize ourselves, but that is very unproductive activity. You can’t accomplish anything for the future if you’re always looking over your shoulder to the past.

“Nothing is more foolish, nothing more wicked, than to drag the skeletons of the past, the hideous images, the foolish deeds, the unfortunate experiences of yesterday into today’s work to mar and spoil it.”

The right entrepreneurial spirit is to think of the past as dead and tomorrow as not yet born. The only time that really belongs to us is right now. By making the president the best we can one decision and action at a time, we can make a great future for ourselves. The art of living is the art of living in the temporary moment.

Marsden’s book was unapologetically designed to inspire, and it does this as few books I’ve ever read. It really amounts to spelling out a life philosophy, one that is deeply practical and actionable in every way on a daily basis. He stays away from the larger questions of who we are, how we got here and what we should seek as the purpose of life and focuses instead on the smaller questions that are more interesting and effective, the more mundane aspect of philosophy, like how we should approach each day in order to get the most out of life, no matter what are calling is.

Do everything with a sense of joy, a spirit of awe, and an ambition to drive forward the engines of progress.

I don’t think this book could be written today. We lack the social template that could produce it. People today are too vexed, burdened and distracted to see these things as Marden saw them. We are too often blind to the reality that he illuminates in these pages, but that doesn’t mean that it is not our reality too.

Nowhere does he talk of storming Washington, agitating for our rulers to overthrow themselves or sending institutions into upheaval. He doesn’t agitate for societal transformation and uplift. He speaks instead to the individual. He tells you what you can do in your time, right where you are, to bring happiness to your life. Social and political change is an effect. It comes only after we change ourselves.

His values: work, creativity, seeking out joy, feeling happiness, letting go of the past, living in the present, never regretting mistakes, never feeling fear, always being loyal, spreading good cheer, looking past obstacles, being kind to others, staying out of debt, keep life balanced between the need for money and the need for beauty, and never losing one’s ideals. This is the essence of the Marden world view.

“No one can be really happy or successful unless he is master of his moods.”

My whole experience suggests that personal inspiration is the ingredient lacking in the current generation of people who have come to love liberty. They have access to texts, knowledge, and theory as never before in human history. What they lack is a method for using what they know and the personal drive to do so.

People are too quick to blame outside forces for failure without realizing that outside forces conspiring against progress are part of the structure of all environments in all times and places. This book provides that missing element, that key to brush away despair and unlock the inner drive to make a difference.

 

Here are some choice passages –

“The golden opportunity you are seeking is in yourself. It is not in your environment; it is not in luck or chance, or the help of others; it is in yourself alone.”

“The trouble with many people who lack imagination is that they have no utopia, no vision, and life is a hard, monotonous grind. Everyone should have a utopia and should live in it much of the time — a place where everything is ideal, and where everybody and everything is what they ought to be.”

“Man was made for growth — to realize poise of mind, peace, satisfaction. It is the object, the explanation, of his being. To have an ambition to grow larger and broader every day, to push the horizon of one’s ignorance a little further away, to become a little richer in knowledge, a little wiser, and more of a man — that is an ambition worthwhile.”

“Books make it possible for every person born into the world to begin where the previous generation left off.”

“Debt is one of the greatest sources of unhappiness, especially with young married people.

“One of man’s greatest passions is that of achievement, the passion for doing things, the ambition to accomplish.”

“No one can be really happy or successful unless he is master of his moods.”

“Do not flatter yourself that you can be really happy unless you are useful. Happiness and usefulness were born twins. To separate them is fatal.”

“Nothing else more effectually retards age than keeping in mind the bright, cheerful, optimistic, hopeful, buoyant picture of youth, in all its splendor, magnificence; the picture of the glories which belong to youth — youthful dreams, ideals, hopes, and all the qualities peculiar to young life.”

“The greatest conqueror of age is a cheerful, hopeful, loving spirit.”

Cottonpatch Wisdom   Leave a comment

Alaska has a really pretty invasive weed called bird vetch that will grow pretty much anywhere and strangle just about every other plant.

The thing is, it’s very pretty and delicate-looking, so people don’t recognize the problem until it’s too late.

Image result for image of bird vetchI had never encountered it in all my years in Alaska until about 12 years ago when I decided to plant a wildflower/perennial meadow along the road next to my house. The former owners had neglected this area because it was outside of the fence, and I didn’t want to work very hard at it, so I raked up the couple of years worth of leaves, mixed my perennial/wildflower seeds with top soil and hand-broadcast the results.

For the first couple of years, I had fireweed, yarrow, bluebells, lupine, and many others, plus wild rose and raspberries that had already spread through the fence from our yard and just needed to be uncovered.

Every summer, I would renew with another broadcast of seeds. Occasional “volunteers” would join the party and mostly were welcome. Dandelions seemed intimidated, oddly enough.

There was this pretty purple vine that joined the party and at first, I didn’t think any of it. I had heard of wild sweet pea and I figured it might be that. That year, the fireweed didn’t bloom. Well, fireweed likes old burn areas and my citified meadow didn’t really see a lot of flames, so …. The next summer, I saw a lot more of the pretty purple vine. So, one day, I walked around to the outside of the fence to pick raspberries and realized that the tendrils of the pretty vine were wrapped around several yarrow stalks, choking the life out of them and that some of the raspberry plants hadn’t produced because they were being covered by this vine.

Image result for image of bird vetchResearch showed that this bird vetch does not play well with others. I burned my meadow and started all over again, but the next year, I still had vetch coming up. I started hand-pulling it so that I could keep my meadow and I’m still doing it, every Sunday during the summers.

I like to do it after church on Sunday because it’s a quiet time for contemplation of the sermon. Lately, our pastor has been preaching from Hosea, the Old Testament prophet who married a harlot and reaped the consequences, but kept his covenant with her, even buying her back from a slave brothel.

Hosea’s marriage was a metaphor for Israel’s relationship with God and it could just as easily be a metaphor for our relationship with Christ.

If you ever wonder why truly faithful Christians flee sexual immorality, the answer is found in Hosea with some cross-reference with the New Testament. Jesus said the church (Christians) would be the bride of Christ. He would take, love, adore and protect her and she would wander away and cheat on Him. He would go find her in the brothel she had sold herself to and bring her back because He had made a covenant with her.

So when I’m out there in the sun or the rain, pulling vetch up by its roots, I have these lessons clicking around in my head. And last week, I thought about how vetch is a lot like sin. It’s going to crop up in your life because mankind bent his own nature when he disobeyed God about that stupid fruit. We are incapable of walking with God and accepting His love without any bumps in the road. We wander. He never does. And because we wander, sins (which are anything that stands between us and God) will crop up. Often sin will look pretty and it may even seem similar to things that are desireable, just as vetch looks a lot like jacob’s ladder.

Image result for image of jacob's ladder flowerWe have to stay on top of vetch and sin. Just like vetch, we can’t let sin flower or produce seeds because sin also has long roots that burrow all over the place and push through where we least expect them. Our bodies breed corruption today just as vetch binds nitrogen and therefore out-competes the plants we would prefer. We want to do what is right. We want to serve Jesus. We fail to do what is right and we all too often spit in God’s face in our haste to do what feels good.

Image result for image of bowing before jesusVetch seeds will stay in the soil and able to spout for six years, meaning that if you turn your back on it for a summer (or even two weeks), it will sow the seeds of corruption for years to come. Sin in the same way. When we encourage it or even pretend it doesn’t exist, we allow it to spout from seeds that might lay dormant for decades.

That’s hard to do because often sin seems so attractive. It doesn’t look harmful. Look how pretty and delicate and purple it is. But it destroys everything around it if you let it gain a foothold.

If we want to be a beautiful bouquet to  God, we must stay vigilant and weed out the pretty vines that will drag us astray and strangle our beauty.

What Is Truth?   1 comment

This is Part 2 of a series.

So Pilate went back into the governor’s residence, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?Jesus replied, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or have others told you about me? Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own people and your chief priests handed you over to me.What have you done?

Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Then Pilate said, “So you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world – to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked, What is truth?”   John 18:33-38

The subject of this series is truth. It’s fashionable today, even in church circles, to skirt the subject of truth. That is an outgrowth of post-modern philosophy that says we can’t really know the truth, we can only know localized, perception-filtered versions of the truth.

If you call these soft-soapers on their fallacy, point out that Jesus said we would know the truth and the truth would set us free, they get shifty. If Jesus really truly is God in the flesh, then we should be assured that the creator of the universe knows what truth is. But if you don’t believe there can be any ultimate truth, then Jesus must be a liar.

It’s really hard to claim the mantle of Christianity if you think Christ Himself was wrong about something as important as reality.

Although I hope this series will help you to see and accept the truth, my goal is to display Jesus’ truth statements in context so that you may know what Jesus actually taught rather than what the revisionists insist we should believe.

Part 3 Where Did Truth Go?

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