“God is really among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25)

Some people don’t buy the whole speaking in tongues thing. They think it’s a bit over-the-top.

Paul didn’t mind it at all. I believe he spoke in them himself. However, he did have a good bit of advice: bring an interpreter.

I love this bit of practical advice.

So often we Christians get so caught up in our traditions and semantics. We have phrases and rituals that make so much sense to us, but to the outsider we are speaking nonsense.

Yes, it’s true that the Gospel can definitely seem foolish to the skeptic. That’s fine. I’ll leave that between the skeptics and God.

But we often bring so much other stuff into the mix. How to sit, stand, dress, sing. We  speak in Latin and old English. I get tradition. I dig it. But we can also get lost in it.

Can someone walk into our midst and know that God is in our midst, or do they just see the stuff?

You can trim the tree however you like, but in the end: is the reason for the season clear?

Let us not lose focus. Let us communicate with everything we do, God is in our midst.

“But I (not the LORD)… In my Opinion”

There Paul goes again, throwing us some curve balls in 1 Corinthians. These come from 1 Corinthians 7:10 and 1 Corinthians 7:40, respectively.

We have grown up understanding that the Scriptures are the inerrant Word of God, but here Paul goes adding commentary to the narrative.

He’s a single dude, undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best evangelists known to Christendom. We can learn so much from him on how to better follow Christ.

But Paul was never married and he was never a woman and he admits he speaks at a loss when approaching both subjects.

I appreciate the humility, though some of the application I don’t see to eye to eye with… and that’s okay.

You see even the best of us are not God, not Jesus, not the Holy Spirit. We’re human beings who God has been gracious enough to fill with His Holy Presence.

Look at David, Abraham, and Moses. Look at Peter and Paul. All flawed human beings. (Joshua, Daniel, and Enoch seem pretty on-the-level, though.)

This is to no means cast doubt on anyone’s faith. The faith abides, in spite of us. I guess that’s the lesson here. A lesson I’ve learned over and over and over again being in the church for the last 33 years. God speaks in spite of us. God reigns above our weaknesses.

So, if you ever run into a modern-day prophet who throws you some doozies in the midst of his or her sermon, remember: we’re all human. We speak out of both the frail and faultless sides of us.

“Who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seal?”

John finds himself in the throne room of heaven, surrounded by twelve elders and four winged beasts, representing the totality of all kingdoms both of animal and of man. An angel appears with a scroll with seven seals, asking a simple question, “who is worthy to bust this thing wide open?” (Revelation 5:2)

Despite their lofty status, none of those present in the room can open the seals. It’s like the sword in the stone, yet none are able to pull out Excalibur.

Then the Lamb arrives, bloody as if sacrificed. It walks right up, takes the scroll, and breaks the seals.

This is Jesus. Jesus alone is worthy.

Everyone in the room flips out and begins to worship Jesus, the once and future king.

Paul tells us that all creation waits and groans for a redeemer (Romans 8:18-25). Look at us. We age, we grow weary, we grow sick, we die. We are burdened by anxiety and regret. Then along comes Jesus. We find life and strength, healing and the promise of eternity in Him. He holds record of our sufferings (Psalm 56:8). We leave our past at His feet (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This Jesus, this resurrected King, gave His life so we could have all these things.

How could we not worship Him, who breaks our many seals, who reads our names loud and proud out from the Book of Life (Revelation 20:12)?

“Don’t Let Anyone Despise Your Youth”

Timothy is the young disciple Paul takes under His wing during the latter stages of his life. Paul takes Timothy everywhere and where Paul can’t go, because he prior commitments or is in jail for preaching the Word, he sends Timothy.

In this second recorded letter to his young apprentice, Paul encourages Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth (1 Timothy 4:12).

We all have to start somewhere. People that have been doing anything for a while are quick to forget how long it took them to learn. Everything from acting to metalworking takes a while to get a hang of, and a lifetime to master. Yet we can easily look down on those who are just beginning.

The disciples turned away children (Luke 18:15-17) and believers that weren’t part of the “in” crowd (Mark 9:38-41). They even rejected Jesus at first because He was from Nazareth (John 1:43-46), the ancient equivalent of a one-horse town. The Pharisees turned away women (Luke 7:39), the sick, and social pariah (Matthew 9:11).

We can think of a thousand reasons why someone is not worthy, but Paul challenges Timothy to prove them wrong. In word and deed, prove them wrong. Demand your place at the table. And for those of us who are the “in,” our challenge is to keep our eyes and hearts open. Where we find exclusion, call it out. Jesus openly rebuked the disciples for pushing out the children. Paul called Peter out for neglecting the disciples. We must also be intentional about extending a warm welcome and following through with it.

Just look at Jesus’ invitation of Zaccheus, a despised tax collector (Luke 19). His dinner invitation changed Zaccheus’ life, so much so that he not only had an overnight conversion, but also became a leading and philanthropic member of society. Community changed people’s lives. It gives them a newfound sense of hope, purpose, and empowerment.

But first someone has to break out the Thor hammer and smash the socio-political glass ceiling to pieces.

So, if you’re new to whatever it is you long for, keep going. If you’re an old timer, stay open. We need each other to thrive.

Jude and the Spiritual Realm

Right before the book of “Revelation,” there is an itty bitty book called “Jude.” Only 1 chapter, great for a quick Bible fix. But Jude is more than a scriptural appetizer. It is chock-full of Easter eggs and rabbit holes.

He fleshes out the character of Enoch, who got a mere 4 sentences in Genesis (5:21-24). Here we see him as a prophet of the most high God, a view we see repeated in the apocryphal book of “Enoch” (which are kinda like the deleted scenes in the Bible). The prophet speaks of the LORD coming with legions of angels to convict the ungodly. It also speaks of fallen angels bound in chains until the end of days for their rebellion in the heavenly realms.

We also see a scene where the angel Michael and Satan are battling over the body of Moses. We are told in the book of Deuteronomy (34:6) that God buried Moses in the land of Moab, but other than that we left to wonder where Moses’ final resting place really was. Perhaps God did want people going back to pay homage. He was always pressing the Israelites forward (in this case, into the Promised Land).

A very interesting thing comes out of that section, specifically in verses 9 and 10. It says that Michael did not fight Satan on his own terms, but rebuked the Prince of Darkness in the name of the LORD. In contrast, the verses tell us that, meanwhile, we humans blaspheme the spiritual realm willy-nilly.

If that’s not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.

Reminds me of the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:11-20). These would-be exorcists took it upon themselves to get rid of some local demons while Paul is off doing miracles and stuff. The demons turn on the sons, beat them up, and strip them naked, sending them home with their pride hurt just as much as their bodies.

Now, these fellows even invoked the name of Jesus in their attempted exorcisms, but it was not their Jesus. It was Paul’s. The demons paid no lip service to someone lacking that personal relationship with the LORD.

Jesus in fact warns us in Matthew 12:43-45 about the danger of improperly casting out demons, telling us that often a cast out demon will leave for a time but come back with seven more of its friends. Imagine how miserable the offender will be then!

It’s like a fad diet. When diets are done improperly (without grounding in our daily life and routine), the diet lasts for a bit, but then snaps back and we end up even less healthy than before.

All that to say, Jude reminds us over and over again in its little book that there is a big spiritual realm out there. If we don’t give it proper heed, if we don’t face it armed with an intimate relationship with the LIVING and POWERFUL GOD, we can soon find ourselves in a heap of trouble.

Think about all the people who come face-to-face with it in the Bible. Moses, Isaiah, Mary, John, Old Testament, New. It doesn’t matter. One look at Jesus and everyone falls to the ground. One day every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD (Romans 14:11).

Jude also reminds us never to underestimate the little guy, the lesser known Scriptures. Everything in the Bible brings something to the table, just like all of us.

 

 

 

Love Your Enemies

There is a natural survival reflex in all of us. If we are hurt, we strike back. It’s counter-intuitive not to. I love how God always asks for the counter-intuitive from us (Matthew 5:38-48, Leviticus 19:18).

Now, when I say “enemy,” that immediately conjures up ideas of arch nemesis. An enemy is classically seen as some melodramatic super villain out to do us harm. But I’d argue that the Biblical concept of enemy goes much deeper than that. Maybe it’s not somebody you wish ill of. Maybe it’s just somebody whose very name causes you to fume and tense of. Maybe it’s not just one somebody but a group of people. People who you speak condescendingly of. People who you find yourself thinking, those dumb (fill in the blank)s.

Jesus knew all about enemies. Yes, there was the obvious ones. The religious zealots and Roman rulers that incessantly mock him and eventually nailed Him to the cross. He could have smote them. He could have brought an army of angels to show them what’s up. Instead, he forgave them, for in His own words, they knew not what they did. He loved them to the end and beyond.

Jesus also had His cultural enemies as well. Jews and Samaritans did not get along. Jews thought the Samaritans were garbage, being traitors to the faith and a generally confused and backslidden people. Jesus was a Jew. He knew exactly how a Jew should feel. Yet, when presented with the opportunity to avoid Samaria, go right around it just like everyone else, He chose to go right straight through. It saved time and gave him a chance to interact with the woman at the well (John 4), a social pariah even by Samaritan standards.

Jesus’ counter-intuitive love changed lives.

When Jesus shared his moment with the woman at the well, she ran to the people of her village, telling her story, about how He loved her though He knew all her dirt. People flocked to Jesus, for who wouldn’t want to know the kind of person who loves everyone unconditionally.

Even after His death and resurrection, Christ’s legacy of love continued.  Peter turns to the people who murdered God incarnate and offers them a chance to repent (Acts 2). They flock to Christianity in droves, for Christ had met their hatred with His love. I think it’s important that Peter is the one to extend the olive branch to them, for he too betrayed Christ. He, too, was an enemy of God. So, for us, practicing agapē love towards others is simply paying forward God’s redemptive love for us.

So, the next time you feel that ill intent brewing up in your heart, give it up to God, who loved us when we were yet enemies to Him.

 

Barnabas, Son of Encouragement

I love Barnabas. We first meet him, he’s selling his field and giving it to the disciples for use in their ministry. Our first introduction to him is an act of giving. And it just gets better from there.

Barnabas is the first disciple to come beside Paul when nobody else would touch him. Paul’s history as a persecutor of Christians made the believers understandably fearful, but, Barnabas’ perfect love for his new brother drove out that fear.

Not only does Barnabas take Paul in, but he also takes the man with him on his important gospel missions. Pretty soon, he takes a step back and lets Paul do all the preaching, paving the way for Paul the Evangelist, who would take the Gospel to the Gentiles like no other disciple ever had before. Barnabas’ selfless love empowers Paul to become not just a part of the family, but a fully realized individual as well.

Barnabas’ journey takes an interest turn from there. You see, Paul wants to take a return trip to all the places he and Barnabas visited together. Barnabas wants to take John Mark with them, but Paul is having none of it. Apparently, Mark had ditched them on a previous mission and now Paul sees him a liability. Barnabas remains Barnabas though. So, Paul heads off alone.

It just goes to show ya: we are often far too quick to forget that the same God that called us out exclusion calls others too. But God never forgets. He continues to extend the olive branch, sometimes in spite of us.

The story has a happy ending, though. At the end of his live Paul summons Mark to his side (2 Timothy 4:11). That Barnabas love finally got through.