Sunday, July 31, 2016

Bad Company

33Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”e 34Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

Thoughts: We are the people of hope- the people of faith- the people of the resurrection.  We are called to live in this hope- and not "eat drink for tomorrow we may die."  Rather we are to have a value for the long haul- eternity.  But Paul has this brief parenthesis to say that the bad can corrupt the good.  One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.  Obviously there were some people in the Corinthians church who did not know about God and were not  being taught.  It is easier to pull someone down than to bring someone up.  Yet, God can do all things. 

Prayer: Lord, let my fellowship be encouraging.  Yet let me balance this with reaching out to others.  

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Facing Death in the Power of the Resurrection

29Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink,for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:29-32)

Thoughts: This is a curious passage addressing a curious, unusual (and unsanctioned) practice.  The ancient Marcionites and another sect in Corinth followed the practice of baptizing a living person in place of a dead person who had indicated they wanted to be baptized- but died before they could (a catechumen).  In the old church there was a long training period before baptism, and the death of someone in training was rare but possible.  In the church today, if someone indicates they wish to be baptized- they could quickly (like the Ethiopian Eunuch- "here is some water- why can I not be baptized?"  Or like Jesus himself who surprised John the Baptist with his baptism).  The baptism for the dead was a symbolic thing.  But we know you do not have to be baptized to go to heaven.
       But Paul's major point here is that if there is no resurrection, why is he willing to face death?  Death's fear is gone because of the resurrection.  This emboldened Paul, and it should embolden us to live the Christian life.  The unbelievers and hedonists "eat drink (and be merry) for death is immanent and takes away meaning and hope.  But we have a hope that what we do here matters in the sight of God, and our death is also precious to Him.  The resurrection is a symbol of eternal meaning and hope. 

Prayer: Lord, give me meaning in the face of life and in the face of death.  Let what I do be bold for you!

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Sting is Gone- and the Work Goes On

55“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”i
56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:55-58)

Thoughts  Death comes to everyone.  But Jesus takes the sting away- so that death becomes not a wall, but a door.  The sting of death is sin.  When we die, what keeps us from eternal life is our own sin.  Heaven is a perfect place and if we cannot get rid of sin we cannot go there for we will not be perfect (and heaven would be made imperfect by our going there with our sin).  Jesus atones for our sin.  He takes the sin away so that we survive.  If a bee stings you and leaves the stinger in you, there will be infection and problems.  But if you can take that stinger out, there will be healing and hope.  Once we know that the power of death to ruin us forever is gone, death is not a permanent force, but a temporary bump in the road.
     If we know that the worst life can offer us- suffering and death will be defeated by Christ, then we have courage to keep the faith and stand firm even if it means we are persecuted or suffer.  In the meantime- we need to remember we are put here for a reason.  The work we do for our Lord is not a waste of time- that ends in our death.  But it is a labor that reaps eternal rewards.  Working for the eternal cause of the kingdom of God is not a work that will fade into oblivion.  It is a work that makes a true difference.  Give yourselves fully to the Lord's work.  

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the work you give me to do.  Thank you that the work I do for you makes an eternal difference.  

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Death Swallowed Up with Victory

50I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:50, 53-54)

Thoughts: So to get to the full kingdom of God- to heaven we must become imperishable (eternal).  To do this, we must die.  But for Christians death is simply a passageway.  It is swallowed up with life.   Death appears to be the ultimate defeat for human beings.  But for believers, this is an illusion.  Death is a door to a whole new world.
    The decaying perishable bodies we all have will be wrapped in an eternal white robe of life.  The mortal becomes immortal at death.  Death appears to be the thing that is swallowing up everyone- but there is a bigger fish that is swallowing up death- eternal life!  It seems death cloaks all of life with a dark cloak of hopelessness.  But in reality life cloaks death- so there is a great cloak of hope.  We must cross the river to get to the other side.
    I think today about my friends Midge Burgess and Jan Overstreet who died this week.  On this side they have gone over the horizon- gone from our sight.  But on the other side they are being welcomed home.  The horizon seems to swallow the ship- but it really doesn't.  

We are swallowed by death which is swallowed by life.

Now I further saw, that betwixt them and the gate was a river; but there was no bridge to go over, and the river was very deep. At the sight, therefore, of this river the pilgrims were much stunned; but the men that went with them said, You must go through, or you cannot come at the gate.

The pilgrims then began to inquire if there was no other way to the gate. To which they answered, Yes; but there hath not any, save two, to wit, Enoch and Elijah, been permitted to tread that path since the foundation of the world, nor shall until the last trumpet shall sound. The pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in their mind, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them by which they might escape the river. Then they asked the men if the waters were all of a depth. They said, No; yet they could not help them in that case; for, said they, you shall find it deeper or shallower as you believe in the King of the place.

Then they addressed themselves to the water, and entering, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his good friend Hopeful, he said, I sink in deep waters; the billows go over my head; all his waves go over me. Selah.

Then said the other, Be of good cheer, my brother: I feel the bottom, and it is good. Then said Christian, Ah! my friend, the sorrows of death have compassed me about, I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey. And with that a great darkness and horror fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him. Also here he in a great measure lost his senses, so that he could neither remember nor orderly talk of any of those sweet refreshments that he had met with in the way of his pilgrimage. But all the words that he spoke still tended to discover that he had horror of mind, and heart-fears that he should die in that river, and never obtain entrance in at the gate. Here also, as they that stood by perceived, he was much in the troublesome thoughts of the sins that he had committed, both since and before he began to be a pilgrim. It was also observed that he was troubled with apparitions of hobgoblins and evil spirits; for ever and anon he would intimate so much by words.

Hopeful therefore here had much ado to keep his brother’s head above water; yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then, ere a while, he would rise up again half dead. Hopeful did also endeavor to comfort him, saying, Brother, I see the gate, and men standing by to receive us; but Christian would answer, It is you, it is you they wait for; for you have been hopeful ever since I knew you. And so have you, said he to Christian. Ah, brother, (said he,) surely if I was right he would now arise to help me; but for my sins he hath brought me into the snare, and hath left me. Then said Hopeful, My brother, you have quite forgot the text where it is said of the wicked, "There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm; they are not troubled as other men, neither are they plagued like other men." Psa. 73:4,5. These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters, are no sign that God hath forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

We will all be changed

 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) 

Thoughts: Death is not the last word.  Paul is also saying that death does not come to everyone.  When Christ comes at the end of time, those who have faith while alive will be changed.  Christ's coming happens in a hurry- as fast as a match catches fire- as fast as an eye twinkles.
    Trumpets sound announcing the coming of a King- to make way and be alert- on your best behavior.  When Christ comes- that is when the resurrection happens and we all will be changed for the better.  Our old decaying bodies will be made alive.  The great news is that death is not the end.  But the change into the kind of people God wants us to be is the beginning of eternity.  

Prayer: Lord, give me an eye to see you- give me an ear to hear your trumpet.  Keep me from shutting my eyes because I may think I know better.  Keep me from being prejudiced against the unusual- the mysterious.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Christ the Victor

23But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For he “has put everything under his feet.”c Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:23-28).

Thoughts: Christ is the  first one to escape death.  In breaking through, He has destroyed the sting and power of death.  Death has a power now, but it is temporary.  Jesus will destroy all that is an enemy to God.  He will destroy sin, destruction, and death.  Jesus then hands all these defeated enemies over to the Father.  In this way- through His Son, the Father reigns in everything.  Nothing will stand against Him.  So, we may as well get on the winning side.  Others may win temporarily, but God will always win in the end.  

Prayer: Lord, let me be on your side.  Let me relish in your victory over death, sin, and guilt.    

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Leader Through The Valley

21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  (1 Corinthians 15:21,22)

Thoughts: Christ is the second Adam- the One who comes to restore what was broken when the very first sin happened.  The first sin started the cycle of poison and guilt.  But Jesus started the cycle of healing and forgiveness.  Death came by one- so life comes by one.
     There are some who say this is not fair- that we should each pay only for our own sins.  But this sense of fairness is artificial.  Reality is that we often are punished or blessed by what our leaders do or don't do.  If the president tells congress to declare war, many will suffer.  If the president messes up- it affects us all..  If the president makes decisions that enhance education and the economy- that too blesses us all.  Adam began the ripple of sin in the pond of life.  Christ begins the hope of life- life beyond this one.  

Prayer: Lord, let me hang onto you- the leader- the first one through the valley of the shadow.  

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Christ Awoke First

1 Cor .15:20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Thoughts: To believe Christ is raised from the dead is not merely a matter of evidence.  It is always a matter of faith- a faith based not in a vacuum but on history.  If Christ did not ever live and die, to have faith in such a story would not make sense.  If Christ did not promise the resurrection, and that the tomb was empty, and appearances made to many- then faith in the resurrection would be totally irrational.  Christ has indeed been raised from the dead and our faith is not in vain.
       Christ is also the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  This means that Christ is the first one through the tunnel of death to the resurrection.  We have seen Him make it, and that should encourage us all.  His resurrected life should give us hope for our own resurrected life.  As when you see a fruit tree bear the first fruit- you obtain hope that other fruits will follow; so Christ's resurrection from the sleep of death is a promise of life for us all.
     A word about the word "sleep."  John Calvin's first authored book was debunking the claim that to die was to go to some kind of soul-sleep.  To sleep was a common way for Christians to describe death.  It was common  because for those who have faith- we may go to sleep, but there is the promise of waking up on the other side.  Death is a not a permanent or even a thousand year sleep.  It is rather going to sleep on this side of heaven to wake up transported on the other side.  This hope of waking up is made sure by the firstfruits of Christ's own resurrection. 

Prayer: Lord, may I now lose my hope of waking up with you. 

Leading team through the tunnel onto the field

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hope in Heaven

19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
 (1 Corinthians 15:19)

Thoughts: Paul says if we take away the hope of eternity from our faith- our faith is empty and pitiable.  Yet, there are many who think heaven doesn't matter.  Heaven gives us a goal, a hope, a strength. Paul is trying to get us to lift up our eyes.  John Calvin spoke of having hope in heaven as an essential part of the Christian life.  This life has a lot of pain.  No one escapes the pain of this life.  This life has a lot of disappointments, mistakes, and problems.  It is a universal experience that this life is not perfect, but we long for perfection.  The resurrection is a focus changer.  The resurrection changes the focus from the death of a great leader, to the worship of the Son of God.  

Prayer: Lord, lift my eyes up to you.  Let my hope of heaven grow that I may work to make this world a better place.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Christ the life-giver

15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. (1 Corinthians 15:15-18)

Thoughts: Paul was saying that he is not trying to deceive people.  False witnessing- lying- is a terrible sin for Paul.  Paul is also saying if Christ is not raised, no one is raised. If someone says, "No one can ever rise from the dead" then this also includes Christ.
Paul also says if Christ is not dead two things happen: 1) Our faith is futile- there is no fruit of eternal life in it.  Your faith may last for awhile here- but not forever.  2) We are still in our sins- that is, Christ's atonement doesn't count.  This means those who are dead will remain dead.
Basically, Christ brings life.  He showed this by the resurrection.  If Christ is not raised, then there is no life to bring.  

Prayer: Lord and giver of life, help me to acknowledge you.  

Monday, July 18, 2016

Importance of the Resurrection

12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:12-14)

Thoughts: How can Paul possibly say that "if there is no resurrection then...our preaching is useless and so is your faith?"   Certainly people have had faith before the resurrection.  People have also had faith without believing in the resurrection.  But what Paul means is that the resurrection adds so much hope and meaning to our faith- that to take it away would leave a tremendous vacuum.  The resurrection of Christ is a deposit- a little taste- of our own eternal life.  His resurrection means that there really is life after this one.
    But the other side is that the uniqueness of Christianity is wiped out if there is no resurrection. With no resurrection, the claims of divinity for Jesus are in doubt.  The Christian leader becomes just another philosopher or religious advocate.  The Christian hope and faith are in doubt too.  What distinguishes Christianity from other religions is also gone.  So the preaching and faith is in vain.  

    There are those who are comfortable watering down the faith to be just one among several good ethical, moral, and philosophical systems.  The Romans had no problem with saying Jesus is Lord.  Their problem came when Christians refused to call Caesar "lord."  The Romans would have welcomed Christianity into their pantheon of gods.  But Christians made a unique, narrow-is-the-path claim.  The resurrection is the peak of the Christians claim and Paul sees and says that here. 
    So what do you really believe about the resurrection?   What you believe will deeply effect the rest of your faith, your life, and your hope.  I would say, if we really believe that Christ rose from the dead, it will change us and change the world.  

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the hope that is found in your resurrection.  Thank you that you came not just to set a moral example, but a hopeful life-death-and resurrection!

Tomb of Jesus in Church of Holy Sepulchre

Grace makes us

1 Corinthians 15:9-11 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Thoughts:  Paul realizes he is nothing.  He did not deserve to be a part of the church, much less a leader.  He persecuted the church before his conversion.  What he is able to do is by the grace of God.  It is the same with us.  All that we do is by God's grace and should honor Him

Prayer: lord. May your grace be at work in me glorifying yourself. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Basics of the Gospel

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15)

Thoughts: Let's break down this passage, for this is the Gospel:
1) "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures."  Christ was the Passover Lamb- the sacrifice that takes away our sins.  We sinned, but He paid the price.  The whole idea of sacrifice, paying a ransom (Mk. 10:45).
2) "That He was buried." The burial is a bit strange to us, and does not seem to be on the same level as the death and resurrection of Christ.  Yet the burial of Christ assures and puts a seal on his death.  There were some who thought Christ really didn't die- that he only appeared to die.  But the burial assures the death did really happen.  

3) That he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures- The Old Testament seemed to predict the Messiah would rise from the dead.  (Psalm 16:10; 49).  
4) That he appeared.  He appeared to many.  This was not just an illusion to one or two.  He appeared to over 500 at once.  Included in this list is an appearance to Paul.  
These are all important pieces of the Gospel of Christ.  

Prayer: Lord, may my faith grow in the truth of your grace.  Thank you for your death and life for me and for those who believe in you.   

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Basics of the Faith

1Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importancea : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas,b and then to the Twelve.6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15)

Thoughts: What is the faith boiled down?  John 3:16 is probably the best.  but 1 Corinthians 15, most scholars agree, contains the most ancient Christian creed besides the short "Jesus is Lord."  Paul says this is the essentials of the faith- to believe in the death of Christ for our sins (vs. 3), that he was buried, that he was raised and appeared.  If we cannot hold to these things we "have believed in vain."  I will look at this in more detail tomorrow.  But for now, suffice it to say that Paul is trying to say the basics of the faith here.  

Prayer: Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelieff.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

Good work- Church AC

23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

Thoughts: Today I was excited about what God has done.  Last Sunday, the air conditioner was about to go - and it did We ended up moving the worship service to the old sanctuary (the current fellowship hall.  Walker White worked hard all week to try to get it up.  They fixed the air conditioning problem in the Children's Ministry Building.  They worked on the two units in the sanctuary.  But one of the compressors went out.  Now Walker White had told us our air conditioner was on its last leg six months ago.  The Session set aside some funds to buy a compressor.  We were told that they would have to manufacture a compressor at the factory and mail it to us- which would take 2-4 months.  However, we found out that the compressor in one unit went bad.  Travis had one of his men drive all the way to Greensboro, NC (7 hours away), pick up the unit, bring it back, and install it.  It was a miracle he could find one, pick it up and install it 30 minutes before the wedding rehearsal was to get started.  Believe me, we were all praying it would be going before the wedding Saturday. 
    Now, many instances, this work could have stopped.  So grateful for church member, Travis, who made it go.  If we all did work like this, the world would be a more trusting, better place.  When people go the extra mile for the glory of God, it encourages all of us to do the same.  It would have been easy for Walker White to say, "We don't have that here, we'll have to meet in another place for a few weeks or months."  But instead, they found a way.  Whatever God calls us to do, let us do it with all our heart- for our call is our purpose.  God blesses us with hope, peace, purpose, and the fruit of His Spirit here.  But our inheritance comes with eternal life.  Eternal life does not begin after we die- it begins now (today is the first day of the rest of your eternal life).  

Prayer: Lord, help me do my work for you and your glory.  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Women Speaking in Church

If I said that people should be quiet in church, you might agree with me.  If I said that children should be quiet in church you might agree with me still.  But being quiet does not mean that no one should speak- or that there should not be a preacher.

Scripture: 34Womenf should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.g
36Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?37If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.h
39Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (1 Corinthians 14:34-39)

Thoughts: It is apparent that in Corinth there was a problem with women asking questions in church.  Paul is saying they should not be asking questions in the middle of worship but should inquire of their husbands later.  This should not be universalized into the idea that women have no place saying anything in church.  Verse 39 says, "brothers AND SISTERS"... "BE EAGER TO PROPHESY."  So Paul is actually encouraging the sisters to join the brothers in prophesy.  This was true of Philip's daughters ,who were prophets too.  If women could not speak at all, Paul would also tell them to not forbid the speaking in tongues by "brothers and sisters."  Unfortunately, some do not want women to speak, and they bring their thoughts to interpret this as a verse that forbids women to speak at all- which it does not do.  When the Spirit of God prompts someone to speak up- then woman or man- if they are called- they should have the right to speak. 

Prayer: Lord, if you call me to speak, let me speak.  If you call me to listen, give me ears to hear.  

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Where is the Light?

The light shines in the darkness- but the darkness has not understood it.  (John 1)

15nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:15-16)

Thoughts: Tonight we flew into Villahermosa Mexico which is a city over a half million and the capital of Tobasco state.  The city itself seems like a growing place.  But flying in I noticed something strange.  For miles and miles, even though it was dark there were no lights.  Every now and then I would see a whole neighborhood lit up from the air, but most of the houses I could still see in the now set sun were dark with an occasional car light.  I wonder how God sees us from His heavenly perspective.  Do we light up our world?  Do we let our light shine?  Do we care about those who are in darkness- or do we even believe in darkness anymore?  Jesus is the light of the world that we want shining in every home- every village in every land.  It is sad when people live in physical darkness because of little money or infrastructure, but it is even sadder when people live in spiritual darkness.
     The other day I went to a dermatologist for a checkup.  She had a special light that would show any cancer in my skin.  Jesus is the light that shows our weaknesses and failures- not that we would feel guilty- but that He can cure them and help them.  I wish there were a special light that we could shine on people to see if they really had faith or not- or if they were seeking faith in their lives.

Prayer: Lord, let my light shine for you.  Use me to light up the world around me, and to go to places to spread your light in the darkness.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Aroma Story

Last night for the first time in my life, I was sprayed by a skunk.  I was staying with my brother and sister-in-law in Golfen CO on my way to Mexico on a mission trip.  I opened my window and in a few seconds a dog went wild outside my window- growling, barking fighting.  I looked out the window just in time to get sprayed by a skunk.  The next morning I was soooo sick!  Yuk.  Thought I wasn't going to Mexico.  But things cleared up after several showers and fresh air.  
       I thought about the passage below from 2 Corinthians. 2.  We are called to be a sweet smell I'm God's nostrils.  We are pleasing to Him- just as a sacrifice.  To the godly people we are also a sweet smell. But to the world we seem stinky.  We are called to spread the musk of God to all- some. Receive it as sweet perfume- others as a skunk musk. But we are called to spread the smell of life to a dying world- the smell of hope to the hopeless.

14But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?

Prayer: Lord, use me to spread your sweet smell of love to all I meet .

Thursday, July 7, 2016

If I ascend

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  (Psalm 139:9,10).

Thoughts: The Psalmist had no idea what it was like to fly or travel a thousand miles in one day.  Yet, this is a great Psalm about God being with us wherever we go- even at 500 mph at 31,000 feet.  Up here we get a glimpse beyond the view of birds- a glimpse of a larger perspective.  
     If you are trying to get away from it all, remember God is still there knowing you- loving you, and holding you in His right hand.  This is also true in the ups and downs in life. The darkness is as light to Him (vs11-12).  He sees all. He helps us and holds us fast- even in the worst of life.  

Prayer: Where can I go from you, Lord?  There is no hiding place from you, but may I find my hiding place in you. 

(Written on a flight from Washington D.C. To Denver to Mexico)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Reasons for International Missions

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Thoughts: There are so many needs here, why should we go far away to help people in missions in Christ's name?  This is a good and common question.  Missions means spending a lot of resources (time and money) to get to a place where the culture and language are different.  It seems a much better use of our resources to just minister here. 
      We have heard so much of the church being missional- but we have defined this as being solely local in scope.  There is a broadening to the love of Christ.
     Tomorrow I am leaving on a trip to Mexico to explore missions, and a good friend asked me this very question.  Here is a brief answer: 

1) Christ's love compels us- We are compelled to not keep the message to ourselves but to spread it- especially among those who have never heard.  Love for other humans that God has made is the most compelling reason.  Love for those who cannot help us back is even better.    
2) Christ commands us- Matthew 28:18-20 is not just for the twelve but for all of us.  There are many reasons why he sends us out.  But the making of disciples is a primary one.  
3) Christ's example elicits our going.  Christ left heaven to come to earth.  He was rich in heaven yet he accomodated Himself to us.  He came down that we might go up.  He crossed the cultural barriers in the most supreme way. 
4) We are better equipped for serving Christ and others when we go.  We learn ideas and we are inspired to not take things and life for granted.
5) While 90% of Americans believe in God, and 80% say they are followers of Christ, this is not true everywhere.  The field is more ripe for harvest elsewhere.  Yet going to share the good news helps us and trains us to share the good news here.  We can learn from our Christian partners overseas to share the good news more earnestly and hopefully.  The results of sharing faith are generally better in third world countries than in the West.
There are other reasons as well.  It provides peace and hope in the world.  I always come away with a deep sense of gratitude that God has blessed me.  But I am created not simply to bless me, my family, and my community.  We are all called to bless the world.  

Prayer: Lord, broaden my vision that I might serve you best wherever you call me to serve.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A God of Order

27If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
29Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.30And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.31For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

Thoughts: Paul is saying everything should be done decently and in order.  This doesn't mean there should not be any surprises or mystery in worship.  In many churches we have left mystery (and God) out.  The point is that worship should be for the building up of others adn teh church.  

Prayer: Lord, help my thoughts in worship to be focused and intelligible.  

Monday, July 4, 2016

Freedom in Christ

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery...You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5:1,13)

Thoughts: Jesus said, "The truth shall set you free, and you shall be free indeed" (Jn. 8:32).  The truth of Christ sets us free.  Christ's truth enables us to finally trust someone.  There are times we cannot trust our leaders, our teachers, those who are supposed to have our best interest at heart.  Today people have a mixed up idea that truth is not real.  But being able to trust in the truth of Christ sets us free from fear and distrust.  We can trust in faith that after death there is life for those who believe.  We can trust that doing good and right is important.  We mistakenly sometimes think that if we can do anything we want, we will be free.  But our sins can trap us- just as addictions can trap us.  The evil we think is so intriguing can take away our hope and joy- like a food that tastes sweet to the mouth but turns sour in the stomach.  
    In Christ we are called to live free from sin, free from death, free from destruction.  It is by God's grace that we are called to be free.  He comes to our prison to release us - not for good behavior, but as the one who takes our irons off and puts them on him.  In gratitude, we should live good lives.  I remember the movie, "Saving Private Ryan" where the captain (Miller) comes to find and rescue Ryan from danger- but dies in the process.  He whispers to him as he dies, "Earn this."  Truth is, we can never earn the death of Christ.  But we can live in a grateful way so that we do not take for granted what He has done.  We do not, as our passage says, need to indulge in the flesh, but we can serve one another in love. 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the freedom we have.  Help me to make the most of the freedom you have given me.  

 “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” -Nelson Mandela