Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Magnificent Grace


Terry Laughlin offers this -- Many Christian historians tell us that by the time of the birth of Christ, Nazareth had become an unimportant town. It was the home of Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:39) and Nazareth was where the angel announced to the virgin, Mary the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:26-28). Nazareth is where Jesus grew to manhood (Luke 4:16) and where He began His public ministry in the synagogue (Matthew 13:54). Unfortunately, Nazareth around the time of the birth of Christ had established a rather poor reputation with regard to morals and religion. In fact, it had no reputation for religion. Nazareth, and the people living there, was despised by Romans and Jews and those living in her were considered a conquered people. Evidence of the citizen's spiritual condition in Nazareth is found in their treatment of Christ during His ministry. When He told them things they could not tolerate they drove Him out of town, they even tried to throw Him off the cliff (Luke 4:16-22). Jesus, having connections to Nazareth shows us symbolically that God is just as able and willing to send His message to a people that are not willing to receive the message as well as to a people searching for God. I guess that the message of Christ would work just the same for a lost world of people today, as well.  We live in a world that has no reputation for the things of God…and we have seen further evidence of this even this past week. But, the bottom line is -- no matter where you live and no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, the Lord can reach into your life and make you a valuable part of the building of the kingdom of God. If you find yourself in Nazareth, in a place of poor reputation in morals and religion, then let the Holy Spirit open your heart to the Christ of Christmas, and be strengthened to enjoy the favor of God in your life.

As I shared last week, Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, received news that she would be pregnant with the forerunner of the Christ, John the Baptist (Luke 1:36). Now, the angel Gabriel brings a second birth announcement (Luke 1:26ff)…this time to a young virgin named Mary who lives in Nazareth (v.28). The people of Judah feel contempt for the Jews in Galilee and claim that they are not “kosher” or “genuine” Jews, because of their contact with the Gentiles in the land. The “pure” Jews especially despise people from Nazareth, as indicated in the disciple Nathaniel’s statement, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:45-46) But, God in His grace, chooses a young lady from Nazareth in Galilee to be the mother of the promised Messiah. And who is this Mary? She is a Jew from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, a virgin, and one betrothed to a carpenter in Nazareth named Joseph. When it comes to Mary, people tend to go to one of two extremes – they either magnify her so much that Jesus practically takes second place, or they virtually ignore her and fail to give her the esteem she deserves. Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, calls her, “the mother of my Lord” (1:43)…and this is certainly reason enough to honor her.

When we consider Gabriel’s message, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (v.28), we can understand why she is humbled and troubled. The fact that she is troubled reveals her humility and honesty before God; she never expects to see an angel and receive special favors from heaven…since she is not royalty, but an ordinary young woman. We have to admire the answer she gives to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (1:38). And, in reality, the meaning is, “I am the Lord’s slave,” which is a difficult concept for us to grasp today. This is a fitting response to the grace of God, even though the social consequences of being a virgin who is with child appear to be dire. Gabriel proceeds to give her the Good News! She will become the mother of the promised Messiah whom she will name “Jesus,” or “Jehovah is Salvation” (Matthew 1:21). God becomes man…Jesus becomes flesh…He is both deity and human. He will be the Christ (King), receiver of David’s throne and the Savior of the World.

So, Mary knows what will happen, but she does not know how it will happen. Her question to the angel (v.34), “How can this be since I am a virgin?” comes as the result of her faith and stands in contrast to Zacharias’ initial expression of unbelief. She believes the promise, even if she does not understand. Gabriel explains that what will take place will be a miracle, the work of the Holy Spirit. Joseph will not be the father of the child, even though Jesus would legally be identified as the son of Joseph. Unfortunately, some would believe that Mary has been unfaithful to Joseph, and he would even question it himself. Mary would still have to bear the mental and emotional pain. Gabriel carefully points out that the baby will be “holy” and not share man’s sinful nature. As we know, Jesus as God become man has to be sinless in order to be the Savior.

Gabriel’s final encouragement to Mary is that nothing is impossible for God – He is able to accomplish His purposes. And is this not a grand message for us to hold close to our hearts, as well? Her response is to surrender to God as His willing servant. Elizabeth rejoices…the unborn John the Baptist rejoices, and finally Mary herself rejoices. Now, she lifts up her voice in a hymn of praise and sings out to the Lord, just as Zacharias did. The song is called “The Magnificat,” (vv.46-55) a Latin term meaning, “magnify,” as her desire is to magnify the Lord and not herself. It goes like this -- "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." She stays with Elizabeth until John is born, and then she returns to Nazareth.

We recognize the marvelous faith response of a young woman to the magnificent grace of God shown to her, resulting in the greatest of all miracles – the virgin birth! Without this event, everything else that we believe and practice falls – the virgin birth of Jesus is central. Just as Mary chose to approach the wonderful news delivered by Gabriel with wonder and humility, we have the same opportunity. Let’s make the most of it! I think this is important for us. For many believers…perhaps, some of us…the extraordinary can so easily become ordinary if we do not renew ourselves day by day, in connecting to the message of Jesus Christ. We genuinely need to consider how important this day is and what the birth, life, death and Resurrection means to us. Don’t allow your faith or spirit to wane. Renew your commitment to Him as the New Year approaches. Seek to make a difference for yourself, your family, your church family and your community!

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Prophecies


I love this -- In his book, "Science Speaks", Peter Stoner applies the modern science of probability to just eight prophecies regarding Christ. He says, "the chance that any man might have...fulfilled all eight prophecies is one in 10 to the 17th. That would be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000" (one hundred quadrillion). Stoner suggests that "we take 10 to the 17th silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now, mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly...blindfold a man and tell him he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up that one marked silver dollar. What chance would he have of getting the right one?" Stoner concludes, "Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing those eight prophecies and having them all come true in one man."

Blessings, Don

Friday, December 6, 2013

Don't Call Me Late for Dinner


In John 6, a great crowd of people has been following Jesus for several days, listening to His teaching and observing His miracles. He has tried to get away to rest, but the needs of the crowd have pressed in on Him...it is late in the day and they are hungry. Because of His compassion, Jesus ministers to them. The problem, of course, is how to meet the needs of such a great crowd of people...5000 men, as we know it, and likely women and children as well. The disciples take the easy, faithless way out, saying – Jesus, just send them away, let’s be rid of them. Still, Jesus knows that these people will faint along the way if someone does not feed them, as it is now becoming evening and it is not a time to travel...too dangerous.

Philip’s response to Jesus statement in v.5 "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" is a reasonable response to what seems to be an unrealistic expectation -- "go and buy food for them.” Philip must be a math major, for He counts the cost and decides that they would need the equivalent of 200 days wages…and even this would not provide bread enough to satisfy the hunger of all of those present. Too often, we think that if we can just throw enough money at a problem, that it will somehow resolve it, but this is not the case. Yet, Philip passes Jesus’ test...that it is not about money. Andrew has a solution, but he is not quite certain how it is going to work out. He has found a boy with a small lunch...two small fish and five barley loaves. Once again, we see that Andrew is bringing someone to Jesus. (See also...Peter, Greeks -- see John 1:40-42, 12:20-22).

The final solution comes from the Lord, and it is the true solution as amazing as it might be. He takes the boy’s lunch, blesses it, breaks it and hands it out to His disciples and they proceed to distribute it to the whole crowd. It must have been great to see the food just multiply as it continued to go out to the people. We must understand that although the disciples are distributing, the miracle takes place from the Father and through the hands of the Savior. Not only do the people eat until they are filled, but the disciples salvage twelve baskets full of left over fragments -- nothing goes to waste.

There are some key, practical lessons here. Whenever there is a need, we can give all that we have to Jesus…and let Him do the rest. Begin with what you have, but be sure you give it all to Him. This young lad certainly had an experience to go home and tell his folks about...”you will never believe what happened today.” The young man is to be commended for sharing his lunch with Jesus. It is improbable that his mother would have had any clue that she would be a blessing for 5000+ people when she sent him off with his lunch that day. The gift of the little lunch meant a lot to Jesus…and the blessings would reach out to many people. The people respond to this in a forthright way…they rightfully declare that what has happened is a miracle and decide that Jesus should be their new king! The people see Jesus as the answer to their physical needs, but He is like a giant pantry to them...and they are thinking, “Hey we can come and get food from Jesus anytime!” But, we are reminded by Jesus that the glory goes to God, and it is His purpose to get them focused on the spiritual purpose of the event that has just taken place.

There can be no doubt that bread is a basic ration for humans, at least in our culture. When we talk about what people need on their most fundamental level, it is bread and drink...water or juice. So, it is no secret that Jesus will refer to Himself as the Bread of life…that His message is the most basic and important of spiritual rations. It is also reflected in our Lord’s Supper that we share together...when Jesus says, “This is (representative) of my body, broken for you,” what is He speaking about? Bread.

In a time where we have so many things in abundance, it can be a temptation to take the blessings of God for granted. It is easier at this time of year, but I think that the challenge for us is to be thankful for who we are, for what we have and what we are able to do together on a regular basis. In humility, we need to respond to the Father, as Jesus responded to the Father, by just simply giving thanks. Like the young man, we also need to look for opportunities to give and to serve. Little did he know what great effect would be had from one simple act of giving. It is a wonderful ministry to be able to feed people...and we are thankful and blessed to be able to do this with our Meals-on-Wheels ministry called The Dinner Dash.

More importantly, we must trust Jesus for our spiritual sustenance. As we feed our bodies, physically, in order to sustain us, it is just as critical for us to eat spiritually in order to sustain our souls. Some Christians try to live on starvation rations, spiritually, and wonder why they do not have the spiritual energy to live an abundant spiritual existence, combat sin and stay out of the world system. This is not what the Lord intended for us. Rather, He has every desire for us to live life abundantly in and for Him (John 10:10).

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

To Be (Heard) or Not to Be (Heard)...An Investigation of Men and Women's Roles in the Church, Pt. 3


It is in relationship to the cultural issues that we come back to the question concerning what role a woman should have in the assembly and church life. Peter, in his first letter, (3:1-7) shares many of the same principles in relationship to submission that Paul shares in 1 Corinthians. Peter indicates that women (wives) should be submissive to their husbands, as Paul has said. Once again, this is not a “forced bondage,” but a willing spirit of the ladies’ behalf to be God’s woman and live lovingly with her husband. And, just as Paul has shared in Ephesians 5, men (husbands) should live in a loving, protective (even “submissive”) relationship with their wives (v.7). Peter wants the woman of God to be “chaste” and have “respectful behavior” and “to be adorned properly.” As I have already indicated earlier, she is also to exercise a “gentle and quiet spirit.” Peter seems to indicate that this attitude is a universal principal, going all the way back to Abraham and Sarah (v.6). So, this is a mindset or attitude that was to be consistent with women everywhere at the time, and there is nothing to indicate that this is a principal that has changed over time.

When we consider Paul’s instructions to Timothy concerning the church in Ephesus (particularly women/wives in 1 Timothy 2), we see a number of things that are consistent with what we already have seen in 1 Corinthians and 1 Peter. At the same time, there are also some significant differences. Once again, the question of women coming to the assembly without appearing immoral is at issue (1 Timothy 2:9). The women at that time needed to be modest with their attire as befitting a person who was godly. There were some women in Ephesus that appear to have a similar mindset as those in Corinth, in that they were not being in subjection to their husbands and this was not acceptable. The women/wives in Ephesus, as at Corinth, had no place to be contradicting the public teaching in an abusive manner, nor should they be arbitrarily teaching (taking over the role of public teaching) in a way that would not be Christ-like. What is interesting to note concerning v.12, is that Paul says a woman should receive teaching literally, “in a respectful manner, with a quiet spirit.” This word aysuchia, is the same word that Peter uses (1 Peter 3:4) and it is a word that describes the practical, spiritual mindset that godly women are to embrace and exercise. It is the spiritual working out of the principle of “keeping silent” that Paul describes earlier in relationship to the Corinthian church. What is fascinating is that Jesus came to set women free from their bondage under the Jewish cultural system. Notice that I said “cultural,” because this is not what God had intended for women, spiritually or even religiously, but the Jews had become so constricting with their laws in so many ways that it became a struggle for women to function at all...much like what we see under Islam in many Middle-eastern countries today. So, for a woman even to be able to receive instruction was a relatively new concept to many of those whom Jesus was speaking, and it carries over to Paul, here. These women, culturally and spiritually, are in a place where they actually are able to receive instruction, but they must not forget that they must continue to behave in a spiritual manner.

The real context of the situation is set in v.13, as Paul indicates that there are some there in Ephesus, as in Corinth, who desire to have their opinions heard and will do whatever it takes in order to accomplish this. Some of these women have been “exercising authority over” some of the men there. The word that Paul uses here is authenteo, “to have authority over” in a way which literally means “to domineer,” and it is used only here in the New Testament. If Paul had wanted to, he very well could have used the word exousia, which is the predominant, typical word for “authority” in the New Testament. The fact that he does not do so, but in fact uses a much stronger word, indicates that he does indeed have a point to make here. And his point fits precisely the context, as I have shared. In my opinion, Paul is not making a negative blanket statement about women teaching in a public or private manner, just that they need to do so in a way that is respectful and with a right (submissive) spirit. We see that when Priscilla and Aquila teach Apollos in order to show him a better way (Acts 18:24-28), that it is apparently Priscilla who is the taking the lead in doing the “teaching.” In fact, Priscilla seems to have been the stronger personality in that relationship, but she obviously seems to have understood the principles of submission concerning which Paul shares here in 1 Timothy as well as 1 Corinthians.

Paul finishes his argument here with an allusion to Adam and Eve. He still wants men and women (husbands and wives) to understand that they each have particular functions...and it must always be so. Paul wants the church, in general, to understand that men are to be the spiritual leaders not only of the church family, but of their own families at home. This has been something of a problem in the current culture in which we live, as we have seen the advent of such Para-church organizations such as Promise Keepers that seeks to help men to re-identify themselves as the spiritual leaders of their families. It is not that Paul is saying that men are to have the only spiritual leadership role at home and in the church, but that they are to have the primary role. Most families could not conceive of mothers not having a significant spiritual role in the training and overall spiritual health of the family. Why should it be any different as it pertains to the body of Christ? Paul is not saying that women “should be seen and not heard” as some have practically interpreted it, but that women should have a prominent role in the life and leadership of the church. He is not overriding the principle of women being involved in the body life of the church, which he has clearly stated, but is dealing with some abnormalities that have arisen – this is clearly indicated in the New Testament context. Men should be the primary spiritual leaders of the church, but this does not mean that ladies are supposed to have some insignificant role or function. It is apparent that Paul desires for women to teach as he describes in Titus 2:3 (and it is “good,” which could be done by example, living a life of service, or didactically, in a classroom setting). It is apparent that some women were intended to be leaders, as we see with Priscilla, some of those who were praying and prophesying in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:4), Lydia, who was a prominent convert, Philip who had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8), but perhaps the most prominent “leader” was Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1). This lady played a significant role in helping her home congregation. There have been some who have specifically interpreted the word diakonia to mean “deaconess” in the context. This word needs to be understood in that it can have a general and specific meaning. The word “apostle,” meaning, “one sent out with a message,” works in much the same way, as we know that there were twelve “specific” apostles, like Paul, but also that Barnabas was called “an apostle” in a more general sense (Acts 14:14), as was Junias, a woman, in Romans (16:7). So, Phoebe may or may not have been a deaconess in the specific sense, but that she was certainly a “prominent servant” having helped Paul and others on a number of missions.

We can understand that Paul did have in mind a role for women not only in the culture in which he was living, but also in the church. It was not necessarily a minor role; it could very well be a major role, depending upon the situation and the place. There were obviously some women who were abusing their positions and, as the result, were being admonished by Paul in his direct addresses to at least two churches that they needed to keep a proper spiritual perspective in relationship to modesty, respect and submission.

Note: We need to be able to take a look at the passages that I have mentioned and consider them honestly...free from presuppositions...which is not necessarily an easy thing to do. One of the difficult problems with interpretation is that we were all taught specific things in certain ways, and it is difficult to separate ourselves from this. It is humbling and challenging to come to conclusions that are different than the ones that we have been taught...and I have had this happen for me concerning a number of passages...but this does not mean that we have to disparage either our former educators or our new understanding. In fact, I like to call it growth. :-) We simply need to be thankful that God can help us to see things differently...to gain insights in ways that we may not have understood before and that it is okay. God bless you in your studies.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

To Be (Heard) or Not to Be (Heard)...An Investigation of Men and Women's Roles in the Church, Pt. 2


In 1 Corinthians 11, there is different instruction given in relationship to this issue that we will now explore. Paul picks up the theme of liberty from 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10 and brings the argument into 1 Corinthians 11 and continues with it. Without a doubt, this is a fascinating section to interpret. Sorting out all of these issues and principles in context is a big challenge. He seems to be making a circular argument dealing with issues of culture in Corinth, and at the same time, proclaiming universal principles for all Christians. There are certain situations pertaining to creation revealed in vv.2-3, 8-12, and situations of culture in vv.4-7, 13-16. The primary issue, here, is concerning respect and submission. There were a number of problems with the Corinthian church in relationship to submission. Women in the Greek culture were feeling restricted culturally and religiously, and some of them were rebelling against the customs of the day. They were not submitting to the principles of “freedom in Christ,” concerning which Paul just shared in chapters 8-10, and they, therefore, were not respecting the authority of God. The men and women (or husbands and wives) were not living with respect to one another. Paul begins dealing with the issue and continues his argument in the following chapters, which we have already discussed.

When Paul talks about Christ being the head of every man, there are a couple of different ways that this can be understood. The word “head” can mean either “origin” or “master”. In other words, man has His spiritual origin in Christ, or Christ is the master of man. Either interpretation makes sense, but it only becomes clear when we consider the second part of the statement -- “the head of the woman is man.” I don’t believe that Paul would be talking about the relationship in terms of “order”, that is “man being the master of woman” especially considering his argument from vv.11-12. There are two truths here that are in tension with each other in this passage (v.3 and v.11), but both are true -- woman comes from man, also man and woman cannot be independent from each other. It makes more sense if he is talking about “origin”. Woman has her origin from man, in that the woman, Eve, was formed from the rib of the man, Adam (Genesis 2:18-25). And of course, Christ has His origin in God -- He was with God and He was God at the same time (John 1:1).

Another consideration here is that Paul is also talking about the husband and wife relationship (as we see in chapter 14). The word for man, here, is aner, which can mean either man or husband. The word for woman is gunay, which can mean either woman or wife. As Paul proceeds to make his argument throughout the course of this section, culminating with chapter 14, he seems to be talking in terms of husbands and wives in some contexts (vv.4-7, 13-16), but men and women in others (particularly the “universal” passages, vv.2-3, 8-12).

There were problems with men and women coming into the assembly with the wrong mindset in relationship to how they should be properly covered. It is really easy to miss the main thrust of what Paul is saying here. We must keep in mind that the big issue is respect and authority (v.10) -- not hair. Now while Jewish men would wear a prayer shawl or covering called a tallith, this was not the case with the men in Corinth. It would also appear to be a cultural taboo for men to have long hair (v.14). The men in the Greek culture were to have their heads uncovered when they prayed or prophesied. (Prophesy here could be either “fore-telling” the future or “forth-telling” the message of God -- it doesn’t really matter for the purpose of the argument that Paul is making).

The instruction for the women was just the opposite of that given to the men. They were not to pray and prophesy with their heads uncovered. Even though it is not a part of the argument that Paul is making, it would appear that at this time and in this place that women were indeed praying and prophesying. When we consider that Philip had four daughters who prophesied in the early church (Acts 21:8-9), it is hard to say definitively how and when this took place. As we can see, it was not to be at a time or in a manner that would be disruptive to the assembly, but it is apparent that it was taking place. If this passage is in relationship to an assembly context (11:1-16), which it certainly appears to be, it would help us to further understand the nature of the assembly at Corinth. Now, we must also understand that it is possible that some of this instruction has been modified by the time that Paul writes to Timothy and the church in Ephesus. We will consider this later when we come to Paul’s instruction to Timothy.

The women needed to have their heads covered in order to show respect and submission to the men (i.e. their husbands) and to higher beings as well. It is important to talk about the covering itself since it, historically, has been the subject of some discussion. The KJV has the translation “veil” whereas other of the more prominent translations (NAS, RSV, NIV) have translated it “covering.” The KJV translation was the result of its own cultural bias at the time; the rendering “veil” comes from a 13th century Byzantine manuscript, whereby women in the culture of that time (particularly “Muslim” but not excluding other cultures) wore actual veils. This practice continued through the 17th century during the time that the KJV was translated, and is still true even today in some cultures (once again, predominantly the Muslim religious culture).

During the time of Christ (when the letters to Corinth were written), the covering for women at that time was long hair (v.15). This was particularly so for Greek and Roman women, but not necessarily for Jewish women at that time. Jewish women would wear a long body shawl that would be wrapped around them ornamentally which they would pull up over the heads at the appropriate time and place. The women in the Greek culture were to come to the assembly with their hair up, as in a bun. In this way, they would be living with respect to the men, culturally and religiously. Some rebellious women were coming to the assembly time with their hair down which was a cultural taboo -- this was how the prostitutes of the day wore their hair. It was also ritual practice for many women in non-Christian religious associations, such as those who would be worshippers of Isis, the primary goddess of those living in Corinth. Therefore, proper ladies would not be seen in public with their hair down -- it would be an offense. So, it would appear from all of the information that the “covering” was more of a cultural issue that needed to be respected at the time of the writing of the Corinthian letters.

Any interpretations concerning “veils” or “coverings” applied to other cultures and contexts would be of a personal/communal nature, that is, it would be up to them. But, it is apparent that the cultural issues that the Corinthians, and others at that time, were dealing with were not binding on others. However, the spiritual principles of submission and respect lined out in this passage would still appear to be applicable to all cultures. Men and women must not have a cultural style or demeanor that is “shocking” to those around them. Once again, men and women, husbands and wives must live with respect to one another (see Ephesians 5:21-33).

Blessings, Don

Thursday, November 14, 2013

To Be (Heard) or Not to Be (Heard)...An Investigation of Men and Women's Roles in the Church


Nothing like picking on a "touchy" Biblical subject to investigate...one that I do not believe that it should be so, however. But, this is an important subject and it is one that requires study, because it is a critical subject to the genuine life and health of the body of Christ. So, without further ado, we will consider part one.

I believe that a significant concern for the early church was that certain women, experiencing their new-found freedom in Christ, could not properly assess their role or position in society or the church, therefore some of the NT writers (Paul and Peter, particularly) deal with the situation in the newly-formed church. It is apparent that in Ephesus and Corinth (predominantly Greek societies, where women had greater "freedom" in some respects) that some of the women were abusing the grace shown to them and were usurping the authority of their (prophet) husbands and perhaps other male leaders who were worshipping in those places. At the same time, Paul does outline that, in general, the leadership of the church should be male (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). I do believe that there were and are apparent exceptions to this rule (Phoebe, for example, Romans 16:1ff). Our fellowship, historically, has struggled to understand the overall context of the NT concerning this issue (an overemphasis on 1 Corinthians 14, 1 Timothy 2 to the detriment, or ignorance of other data from the NT). Therefore, in many cases, our churches have had an unbalanced relationship concerning men and women and their function within the church.

The definitive passage that most have focused upon in relationship to this discussion has been 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which says, “Let the women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” This is one, big steering wheel of a passage for many people. The way that I have heard this passage interpreted is that it has been taken in a literal sense to say – the women are to keep absolutely, literally silent. Yet, the fascinating “inconsistency” in relationship to our fellowship, is that we generally have not “literally” abided by this. We have allowed our women to speak up in Bible class and have permitted them to sing in the assembly time including, to be able to speak once they enter the building for assembly time, (which would not take place if it were “absolute” silence). There were no “authorized” bible classes then, but they have become a recognized expedient over the centuries in order to help our people better learn the Bible and be better committed to the Lord…and this is a good idea. I have heard of some fellowships that have interpreted and applied this passage “absolutely literally;” their women “literally say nothing” upon entering the building until they depart. Although I disagree with this interpretation, I have to respect them, somewhat, for their consistency. However, the real question is -- what is this passage really saying in its context? We Christians have a bad habit of taking passages out of their context and building a theology. We need to be careful to honestly approach our Bible study, otherwise can get us into big trouble when we are seeking to interpret. It is necessary to keep these two verses in the context of 1 Corinthians 14, first of all, then the context of 1 Corinthians 11-14, then 1 Corinthians, the New Testament and finally the Bible as a whole. This telescoping out of “context” helps us to be thorough in our study and allow us to better interpret passages of Scripture.

What we do understand concerning Corinth, Ephesus and other churches at that time is that the women needed to be respectful and submissive to their husbands. Paul was not saying that they were “literally, to be absolutely silent” at all times. An important consideration in this discussion is that some have interpreted “in all the churches of the saints” (14:33b) as if it is to be connected to v.34, rather than v.33. The original Greek did not have the punctuation in place the same way that our English translations do, so there are situations where the context has determined where the punctuation should go for the English translators who translated the Bible over the centuries. Some translations have “in all the churches of the saints” (v.33b) going with “let the women keep silent” (v.34). I believe that the New American Standard version depicts this most accurately as it keeps “in all the churches of the saints in v.33 with “for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” It makes more sense to consider the latter principle as being the more universally held principle than the former (see in v.34). As we have discussed, the issue of boisterous women behaving in a disrespectful manner was a significant problem, at least in Corinth, and perhaps in Ephesus (1 Timothy 2), and in other places (1 Peter 3).

When we broaden our study to consider 1 Corinthians 11, as well as 1 Timothy 2, we will see all of this even more clearly. This is especially the case given that he has been dealing with such cultural issues as “hair” already. In 14:29-32, the prophets are to speak and pass judgment, but all in relationship to being respectful and orderly (14:40) concerning how they were to be presenting their information from the Lord. However, there had apparently become some confusion about what was taking place in the assembly at Corinth as some of the wives of these prophets were disrupting the flow of the service, perhaps with their own “prophesying” (1 Corinthians 11:5), or they were just being disagreeable and boisterous, in general. They also may have been “cross-examining” their own husbands publicly (thinking they had the better interpretation, perhaps), which would quickly create chaos in the assembly. We clearly do not understand everything that is going on, but we have enough information to discern the situation. Now, all of this is interesting, especially in relationship to the Greek culture, where women typically had no public role at the time. Paul was trying to help them understand some “spiritual” principles regarding…not only the church…but with respect to their culture. What we do know is that when Jesus came, He set women free from the cultural captivity that they had been exposed to for thousands of years under the Jewish cultural system. This has always been a significant sticking point for me – why would we want our ladies “to be seen and not heard” as did the Jewish people, when Jesus came to set them free from such a strict life and religion? Paul tells the Galatians that “all have been set free in Christ” and we are “one in Christ” in order to experience the salvation of the Lord (Galatians 3:28, 5:1). Now, we must be careful not to discard all cultural principles when we consider this issue, but we must discern which principles are culturally bound and which ones are universal in their application. Understand, however, that Jewish women basically had the same value “as property” and so they were not even permitted to learn or be educated in the rabbinical schools, etc. It was not ever the Lord’s intention for women to be put into such arbitrary subjection, yet this is how many Jewish males treated their women (with some notable exceptions – Deborah, Esther, etc.). When Paul tells Timothy and the Ephesians in 1 Timothy 2:11 that women can receive instruction, this is radical teaching, as this had not ever been allowed, or happened before (in general – see the movie Yentl for an interesting reference). What we do understand concerning the situation in the Greek and Jewish cultures is that there was some room for “interpretation” even in their own unique cultural circumstances. For example, even in our own world cultures today, we have typically had the men serve the Lord’s Supper in our American churches of Christ. Yet, in certain Asian cultures, it would be unacceptable for the men to serve the women, rather, it is necessary for the women to serve the men. So, when we return to Corinth, we see some unique circumstances that help to create the current environment under which this instruction comes.

Another important factor in the discussion is the use of the word “silence.” The word in the original Greek is sigao, which means “to be silent or to keep silent.” When we consider all of the ramifications and everything else going on, culturally, as we have stated above, we can see why Paul uses this word in this particular situation, given the fact that the disruption created by certain women was having disastrous results in the assembly. The other word used in relationship to this principle of submission is aysukia, meaning peaceable, quietness or having a quiet demeanor. This word is used in most of the other passages in relationship to this subject – see 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Peter 3:4. When we consider the big picture of how it is that God wants His women (and men for that matter) to behave, it should be with this frame of mind and according to this spirit. This is the attitude that he wanted the women in Corinth (and all women in the churches) to be exercising – one of a gentle and quiet spirit, not boisterous and domineering. This is the general principle (quietness) in relationship to the specific situation (silence) seen in Corinth. When we think about the cultural and spiritual issues and discussions that were taking place, we can see why it would make sense that Paul wanted the women everywhere to have “the quiet spirit that was befitting godliness.” The general principle at work is not that he wanted all of the women everywhere to be absolutely silent as it pertained to the assembly and Christian living. It is also important to note that he shares in the context of the discussion that if the (said) “wives” should have questions that they should ask their “husbands” at home (v.35), which sheds further light upon the context. So, is Paul…once again…making a statement for all women for all time…or, is he dealing with an issue pertaining to prophets and their wives? The fact that he is dealing with husbands and wives certainly provides some important context for understanding the discussion at hand. We will continue the discussion by going back to chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians next time.

Blessings, Don

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Power in the Name


Luanne Oleas shares this story -- When the 1960s ended, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district reverted to high rent, and many hippies moved down the coast to Santa Cruz. They had children and got married, too, though in no particular sequence. But they didn't name their children Melissa or Brett. People in the mountains around Santa Cruz grew accustomed to their children playing Frisbee with little Time Warp or Spring Fever. And eventually Moonbeam, Earth, Love and Precious Promise all ended up in public school. That's when the kindergarten teachers first met Fruit Stand. Every fall, according to tradition, parents bravely apply name tags to their children, kiss them good-bye and send them off to school on the bus. So it was for Fruit Stand. The teachers thought the boy's name was odd, but they tried to make the best of it. "Would you like to play with the blocks, Fruit Stand?" they offered. And later, "Fruit Stand, how about a snack?" He accepted hesitantly. By the end of the day, his name didn't seem much more unique than Heather's or Sun Ray's. At dismissal time, the teachers led the children out to the buses. "Fruit Stand, do you know which one is your bus?" He didn't answer. That wasn't strange. He hadn't answered them all day. A lot of children are shy on the first day of school. It didn't matter. The teachers had instructed the parents to write the names of their children's bus stops on the reverse side of their name tags. The teacher simply turned over the tag. There, neatly printed, was the word "Anthony." Aaah, oh well. The lessons we learn, right? Names are important, as they more closely identify us than anything else we own.

So, it is with this in mind that we further come to understand the unique relationship between the Father and the Son here in John 17:6-12…and how the Son carries the name of the Father. The Old Testament Jew knew God has Jehovah, the Great I AM (Exodus 3:11-14). Jesus takes the sacred name I AM and makes it not only personal, but meaningful for His disciples. “I AM the Bread of Life” (John 6:35), “I AM the Light of the World” (John 8:12), “I AM the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11) all reveal that Jesus is everything that they need. But, the Father’s name includes much more than this, for Jesus also teaches His disciples that God, the Great I AM, is their Heavenly Father. “The Father” is used 53 times in John 13-17, and 122 times in John’s gospel. We get the picture as to who is in the picture here. Jesus makes it clear, repeatedly, that it is the Father who sent Him, that He is equal to the Father, and that His words and works come from the Father. He makes a clear claim to the fact that He is deity, but they refuse to believe. By saying that He has “manifested the name of the Father”, He reveals the very nature of God. One of the ministries of the Son is to declare the Father (John 1:18, 14:7ff). It is through His living the life of service, that He gradually…by His words and deeds…reveals the nature of His Father in a way that they are able to more readily grasp it.

It is because we believe in the name of God and the power of salvation that comes in His Son, that we understand that we, as believers, have safety. Peter and John believed in this, as they proclaimed the power of the name of Jesus is Acts 3-4. God took care of them. God takes care of His own people. The Father purchased us through His Son, and He is not going to allow us to have to fend for ourselves. As we discussed in chapter sixteen, God gives to us His Holy Spirit to guide and protect us in our walk with Him. Furthermore, God’s people are the Father’s gift to His Son. Would the Father present His Son with a gift that would not last? Whenever you feel down or as if the Lord has somehow forgotten you, read Romans 8:28-39. The Father is near…He is present…He cares for us and what is going on in our lives. The Spirit helps us to understand better the presence of the Father for us and through us.

We come back to the theme of glory once again. With all of their faults and failures, the disciples still receive this word of commendation – that Jesus is glorified in them. As I mentioned last week, we need a Savior, because we are going to blow it, we make mistakes, we sin. But, the Lord God knows this. This is why He would send his Son to rescue us from ourselves. And no one can take this away from us. Once we have received salvation in Christ, the only way that we cannot have it is to walk away from it. We must be faithful to Him who called us out of the darkness and into His glorious light.

Finally, we have fellowship and unity (v.11)…a theme that He is going to come back to shortly. Wherever we find saints, we find fellowship. We have the most important thing, and in this case, the most important person in the world in common – Jesus Christ. The Father knew that we would need one another. After washing their feet and up until the time of His crucifixion, Jesus knows that they are going to face trying times and that they are going to need one another. We are able to be overcomers in this life, because we share in the life of the One who has overcome sin, flesh and even death itself. So, even though one day we are going to die, it will be as if passing through a gate from one form of spiritual/eternal existence to another. Jesus is going to be waiting for us, by the power and authority of the name of His Father. What a marvelous thing!

Bruce Larson, in Believe and Belong, tells how he helped people struggling to surrender their lives to Christ: "For many years I worked in New York City and counseled at my office any number of people who were wrestling with this yes-or-no decision. Often I would suggest they walk with me from my office down to the RCA Building on Fifth Avenue. In the entrance of that building is a gigantic statue of Atlas, a beautifully proportioned man who, with all his muscles straining, is holding the world upon his shoulders. There he is, the most powerfully built man in the world, and he can barely stand up under this burden. 'Now that's one way to live,' I would point out to my companion, 'trying to carry the world on your shoulders. But now come across the street with me.' "On the other side of Fifth Avenue is Saint Patrick's Cathedral, and there behind the high altar is a little shrine of the boy Jesus, perhaps eight or nine years old, and with no effort he is holding the world in one hand. My point was illustrated graphically. "We have a choice. We can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, 'I give up, Lord; here's my life. I give you my world, the whole world.'"

In a sense, this is the message that Jesus is sharing with His disciples…then and now. You and I can try to take on the world, put it all on our shoulders and see how long we are able to bear up…or, we can let it go. We can trust in the power of the name of God, and the authority of the name of Jesus to take care of us. It is in the strength and power found in Jesus that we are going to find victory and overcome this world, religious trappings, and other matters that seek to weigh us down. There is a song that came out recently that really captures this wonderful thought, and I fell in love with it quickly, because it helps us to gain some perspective on life. It is called “Just Say Jesus.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWbYo6H0WiI

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

From Death to Life


A story by Sydney Lupkin of ABC News from two months ago -- When 17-year-old Lawrence Yahle learned his father was dead earlier this month at Kettering Medical Center in Ohio, he ran down the hall to see nurses around his father's body. They weren't trying to revive him anymore. Distraught, Lawrence pointed and shouted, "Dad, you're not going to die today." Moments later, Anthony Yahle's heart monitor showed signs of life, Dr. Raja Nazir, his cardiologist at Kettering Medical Center, told ABCNews.com. It wasn't a regular heartbeat, but once or twice a minute, the monitor would pick up tiny electrical movements. "When I looked at the electrical activity, I was surprised," Nazir said. "I thought we'd better make another effort to revive him." Nazir gave one of Yahle's hanging medicine bags a squeeze to restore his blood pressure and the team began working on him again. "Very slowly, the heart rate was picking up," Nazir said. That was more than a week ago, on Aug. 5. Doctors thought Yahle, a 37-year-old diesel mechanic, would need a heart transplant or be in a vegetative state the rest of his life, but he's home resting and seems fine. "I'm calling it a miracle because I've never seen anything like it," Nazir said. Yahle's near-death experience started at 4 a.m. that day, when his wife, Melissa Yahle, woke up and realized his breathing didn't sound right. Melissa, who has been a nurse for seven years, said she tried unsuccessfully to wake him up. Melissa and Lawrence performed CPR until an ambulance could arrive, and first responders found a heartbeat after shocking Yahle several times. At the hospital, doctors expected Yahle's arteries to be clogged, but they were clear. Things were looking positive until later that afternoon, when Yahle's heart stopped. He "coded" for 45 minutes as doctors tried to revive him. "We looked at each other," Nazir said. "We'd given him all the medicine we had in our code cart. At some point, you have to call it off." Nazir said he wasn't sure exactly how long Yahle was "dead," before Lawrence ran down the hall to tell his father he couldn't die that day. "Suddenly that trickle of a thing came back," Nazir said. "We were lucky we saw and reacted to it, and that brought him back." Nazir said it was "mind boggling." Melissa said she, Lawrence and the people from their church who were praying with them witnessed a miracle. Yahle was transferred to Ohio State University, and he returned home to West Carrollton on Aug. 10 with a defibrillator in his chest. He doesn't remember any of the experience after he went to bed on Aug. 4. "He doesn't have one broken rib," Melissa said. "He's not sore. These are things that just clinically don't happen." Yeah…except they do. This is what happens with God. He has a way of doing miracles…in His way and at His discretion, of course. This seems to be a pretty prominent theme in the Bible.  Here, we have the story of a young person who dies and comes back to life by the power of God.

This is the first recorded instance in the Word of God of a person being raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24). It is evident that the young man in the story is dead, as it not only indicates that he stopped breathing, but that his spirit has left his body (vv.21-22). His mother is grieving, as well. It is interesting to note that the mother’s response is to feel guilty because of past sins. She believes that her son’s death is God’s way of punishing her for misdeeds. It is not uncommon for people to feel guilt in connection with bereavement, but is curious that she points her finger at her guest. She recognizes Elijah as a man of God. Perhaps, she believes that his presence should have protected her and her son, and should have prevented her son’s death.

Elijah’s response is to carry the boy to the upstairs room and to cry out to the Lord for the life of the child. He can’t believe that the Lord would miraculously provide food for the three of them and then allow the son to die. There has to be something else at work. Elijah doesn’t stretch himself out on the boy’s dead body in hope that he could somehow transfer his life to the lad, because he knows that only God can impart life. It is after Elijah stretches himself out on the boy for the third time that he comes back to life. Is this a coincidence…given that our Lord arose on the third day after His death? I would say -- probably not. There seems to be a looking ahead or foreshadowing to Jesus’ experience in most, if not all, of “the raising from the dead” stories. In a similar manner, Paul raises the boy Eutychus in Acts 20, as it says, “Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. ‘Don't be alarmed,’ he said. ‘He's alive!’” (v.20)

The result of the miracle is the woman’s confession of her faith in the God of Israel. She now understands that Elijah is a true servant of God, and not just some religious teacher looking for support. This is all interesting since God has already provided food for the widow through Elijah, as we go back to the previous message. So, the God of the universe is not only able to sustain life, He also grants life. Like the man with the five talents, Elijah has proven himself to be faithful…all while in enemy territory. During these three years on the run, Elijah has learned a great deal about the Lord, about himself and about the needs of people…which is good, because he is about to face his greatest challenge.

One final thought…Jesus uses this story Himself (Luke 4:25-26) to emphasize the grace of God on people. This is an important message, not only in the New Covenant, but in the Old, as well.

One might ask -- what is the purpose in the raising of one from death to life? We will consider this thought in Paul’s relationship to Jesus. What can we see from Paul’s life in regards to the impact of the resurrected Christ? One commentator notes: “The truth and power of the resurrected Christ brought three great changes in Paul. First, was a deep recognition of sin. For the first time he realized how far his external religious life was from being internally godly. He saw himself as he really was…an enemy of God and a persecutor of His church. Second, he experienced a revolution of character. From a persecutor of the church he became her greatest defender. His life was transformed from one characterized by self–righteous hatred to one characterized by self–giving love. He changed from oppressor to servant, from imprisoner to deliverer, from judge to friend, from a taker of life to a giver of life. Third, he experienced a dramatic redirection of energy. As zealously as he had once opposed God’s redeemed he now served them”. (MacArthur, J. F. (1984). First Corinthians. MacArthur New Testament commentary (395). Chicago: Moody Press.)

And what does this story mean for us? Once again, we see the providence of God at work. The God who protects Elijah for three years, who protects the widow and her son, can also protect us. Not only this, I believe that the story is not only a foreshadowing of Jesus’ resurrection, but it is also a foreshadowing of ours. It we believe that Jesus is raised from the dead and that He is coming again for us to take us home to be with Him…then, as we have studies in 1 Thessalonians 4, etc., we will likewise be raised from the dead! The miracle that takes place for Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, also takes place for all who have trusted in Him for salvation, just as Martha indicates to Jesus, "I know he (Lazarus) will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies…” (John 11:24-25, NIV) This is our hope!

Blessings, Don

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Comet, A Planet and a Star


I love this recent photo courtesy of APOD and Pete Lawrence (Digital-Atronomy)...(and I am happy that the site is back up, as it is APOD.gov ;-). The photo features...from top to bottom...the comet ISON, the planet Mars and the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo. ISON should become brighter over the next few months.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Living Outside the Box, Pt. 2


I posted something on Facebook the other day that the Lord put on my heart. We live in a culture where many things come easy. As it relates to closeness with God, this is not necessarily the case...it requires desire, humility and diligence. He wants us to be close to Him...and we certainly need it. (James 4:8a) I believe many people assume, and even expect, that faith should come easy, but that is just not the case. And when they find themselves struggling to believe, they do not understand it. As the old saying goes, when there is distance between you and God, He hasn’t gone anywhere. It is you and I who create the gap through our lack of faith, or even worse, living worldly. So, as we come back to consider what is taking place in the life of a fascinating individual…who by all rights and understandings, should not have faith in God…we are inspired to live more faithfully for the Lord

The Roman centurion is a person of great faith who is not afraid to cross racial and social barriers (Luke 7:1-10). He displays a deep love and affection for a servant who is ill to the point of death, and He seeks out a Jewish religious leader for answers. He also desires to immerse himself in the work of God, even making a significant contribution to the building of a Jewish synagogue. Here is a gentile soldier that is concerned about Jewish worship, which is remarkable. As we continue to examine the characteristics that reveal this centurion to be a person of amazing faith, we see that this man approaches Christ with great humility (vv. 6-7a). These verses reveal two essential components of the Christian faith – an understanding of whom Christ is (Savior) and an understanding of who we are (helpless sinners).

In verse six we find this, “Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. (7) Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to you.” Before Jesus could reach his house, the Centurion sends a second representative to Jesus, telling him that it is not necessary for Him to come to his house. Because he was familiar with Jewish religious customs, the centurion did not wish to put Jesus in a position of having to enter the house of a Gentile. This Roman soldier, a man of considerable influence and power, is uniquely humble, regarding himself as undeserving of having Jesus come under his roof. He even felt unworthy of meeting Jesus in the street. This soldier, unlike the Pharisees, does not ask Jesus for a sign that he is who he says he is. This man doesn’t even ask to meet him.

Finally, we see this Roman trust, as the song says, “in Christ alone.” (vv. 7a-8) “… But say the word, and my servant will be healed. (8) For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” The centurion apparently realizes that Jesus has the power of life and death…that He could heal with a word, and therefore, must be God. And if Christ is divine, then he…a Gentile sinner…is unworthy even to meet him. Respectfully, he kneels before his divine authority. All Jesus has to do is say the word, and the centurion believes that it is as good as done. There is no evidence that this man has ever personally heard Jesus preach and yet he believes! He makes his request based on what he has heard concerning Jesus. And Jesus promises a special blessing on people like this centurion. When Jesus appears to Thomas and removes all of his doubts, proving that he has risen from the dead, he says to Thomas, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). This blessing extends to the centurion and to every believer today. In the word “also” in verse eight, the centurion sees a parallel between the way he commands his soldiers and the way Jesus commands diseases. If this man, with very little spiritual instruction, has this kind of faith in God’s Word, how much greater should our faith be?
In verse nine we see Jesus’ reaction, “He marvels at him, and turns around and says to the crowd that follows Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, even in Israel!” This man’s remarks amaze Jesus…that they have come from a Gentile. He marvels at a Roman centurion, whose background and circumstances ought to have made it difficult for him to have faith. Here is a man whose occupation is one where he has to be “the tough guy”…a man who should be steeped in the paganism of the day…a man hated by the Jews because he is a Roman. Yet in spite of all the circumstances that go against him, he is a striking example of faith. And almost as an afterthought, Luke adds verse 10…and oh by the way, “When those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.” Faith that is genuine is fulfilled in and by Christ Jesus.

Pat Summerall has to be my favorite broadcaster of all time. He passed away this past spring at the age of 82. Pat spent 50 years with the National Football League. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1952 and played with the Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants until 1961. After his retirement from the game, he joined CBS as a broadcaster and in 1993 switched to Fox. During his CBS years he and a fellow broadcaster partied hard off the field. "We raised Cain” he says, “I was the first guy at the bar and the last to leave." His love of alcohol was well-documented. Summerall was told that if he kept on drinking he was going to die. After checking himself into the Betty Ford Clinic, his counselor urged him to seek a better life through faith. At age 66, Pat Summerall was baptized. In USA Today he told a reporter that when the minister "leaned me back in the water, I never felt so helpless." Summerall testified, "I knew I just became a Christian. I can’t tell you how great life has been since then." Summerall spent much of the past sixteen years of his life living outside of what had been his box. He spent his time telling people about his story, and how he left the world behind to become a Christian -- what a testimony!

Pat Summerall recognized that his life was not going to make sense and he was going to be enslaved to addiction unless he received some help. When we come back to the story of the centurion, he realizes that he needs help. What startles and impresses Jesus are the positive characteristics that are displayed in the life of the centurion. These characteristics can be displayed in the life of anyone who is willing to trust in Him. We do not have to settle for a mediocre faith. We do not have to hang out on the fringes of Christian society and the body of Christ. We can and should be “all in.” Jesus really does not expect anything less than this for us. He must be Lord of our lives, and not just some part time Christ. We need to prioritize and continue to prioritize our lives in a way that we are living as citizens of heaven on earth, first! This is our continual challenge.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bread from Heaven


It is getting to be that time of year again…when soup tastes especially good. There is just something about soup and cooler weather. Whenever I have soup…there must always be “bread”. I don’t know what it is, but bread just goes well with soup. I don’t necessarily mind a slice of Wonder Bread, but, soup is so much better with one of Kim’s rolls. Under most circumstances, bread would be the secondary portion of the meal…but, not when it comes to Kim’s rolls (and many of you know what I am talking about). Soup becomes that which enhances the roll.

I think about this in relationship to John’s reference to Jesus as the Bread of Life (John 6:26ff). As that Bread, Jesus takes second place to nothing. We don’t take Jesus as any secondary portion, but everything else in our lives should enhance or glorify Him. Bread becomes a symbol for Jesus and His ministry. By grace, our Lord feeds some people who are hungry, but, in truth, He gives them the Word of God. The problem is that they want the food, but they are not necessarily interested in the truth. For certain, some would stay through the storm in order to seek Him, but Jesus…knowing their hearts…is not particularly impressed. In the end, most of these people would abandon Him. Jesus points out that there are two kinds of food – one is for the body, which is necessary, but not the most important…and two, food for the inner man or spirit, and it is this that is most essential. Jesus quotes “Isaiah 55:2 – “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance.” What these people need is not so much “food” -- they need life! Life is the greatest gift.

The crowd, being the persistent bunch that they are, again asks Jesus for a sign to indicate that He really is who He says He is. Paul also says that the Jews are always looking for signs (1 Corinthians 1:22). The rabbis taught that when the Messiah would come, He would duplicate the miracle of the manna (Exodus 16) that came down from heaven...from God. If Jesus is truly from God, then let Him prove it by causing manna to fall from heaven. They want to “see and believe.” I may be missing something here, didn’t Jesus just do this for them...albeit in a different way? He just fed 5000 of them with “bread from heaven.” They miss the truth, because they are preoccupied with other things.

Faith that is based on signs alone, and not on the truth of the Word of God, can lead a person astray. Now, Jesus clearly identifies what, or rather, Who the bread is. He is the true Living Bread that has come down from heaven. He comes…not only for Israel…but for the whole world – and not only to sustain life, but to give life. The crowd wants the bread, but only so they would not have to work at living the life! They want to “take it easy.” In His response, Jesus uses two key words – come and believe. Believing is not merely an intellectual pursuit, as in giving assent to doctrine…it means to come to Him and yield our lives to Him. Just as we take in food or drink, we also must “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” as Jesus says in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:6).

Verse 35 is the first of the seven great “I AM” statements recorded by John. When “Jesus uses the name “I AM,” He is definitively claiming to be God. Jesus concludes His message with hope – that those who would believe in Him and obey would see salvation. Our hope for life…spiritual and eternal…is in the Bread. Jesus says that, in the looking for “signs,” many people miss the “real deal.” Too many people get caught up in the trappings of religion…whether or not they have all of their i’s dotted and t’s crossed…and they miss the point. We can believe that we understand “all of the doctrine” and “still not know the doctrine-maker.” We must not major in eating that which does not sustain us, spiritually. The Bread of Life…His life and message…is the spiritual food that we need to sustain us. We need a relationship with the One who is able to save our souls…we cannot settle for any substitute. Blessings,


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Living Outside the Box


Amanda Wilson shares this -- Catholic priest, author and theologian, Henri Nouwen was a person whose heart was willing to serve the Lord. And as a world-renown Catholic educator and teacher he had a great deal of success in encouraging others in their faith. Yet one day, he believed God called him to leave that and become a house parent in the Le Arche community, an organization that gives homes to mentally and physically handicapped children. So he did. He left the world of the popular speaker and entered a home where none of the people he was ‘father’ to knew of his fame and success. Believing that he would be serving them, Nouwen soon found that the shoe was on the other foot. When Nouwen came into a room he saw the faces of the children light up. Each day he was greeted with smiles and hugs, openly involved in the sorrows and success of the children, and generally made to feel like a valuable part of the community. Before long, Nouwen found himself in the deepest pit of depression that he had ever experienced. In the face of the profound love and acceptance that these handicapped children had given him, Nouwen’s reliance on his ability to dazzle with knowledge crumbled and the loss was devastating. Yet it was in this breaking point that Nouwen experienced the unconditional love of God at the very core of his being and he understood that God can and does use the handicapped and wounded to do His will. Out of that experience came the wonderful book, The Wounded Healer, which ends with the statement that “the wound which causes us to suffer now will be revealed to us later as the place where God made his new creation in us most intimately known.” Someone has said, “Faith is not believing that God can -- it is knowing that He will. Faith is deaf to doubt, dumb to discouragement, blind to impossibilities and knows nothing but success in God.”

In Luke 7:1-10, we find a centurion who, although he is a Gentile, understands who Christ was and is. The story is significant because it is a Gentile who exercises this faith and this would be of special interest to Theophilus, the Gentile to whom this account is addressed. Only twice in all of Scripture is Jesus said to “marvel” or be amazed. The other time is when He begins His public ministry in his hometown of Nazareth, and he is rejected by his fellow Jews – “he was amazed by their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:6, Luke 4:14-30). The centurion has a faith that is more perceptive and sensitive than anything Jesus has witnessed in Israel. What could be more horrible than to amaze the Son of God with one’s lack of faith? What could be more thrilling than to amaze Him with one’s faith? This centurion has amazing faith! What we need to consider is, “Why was Jesus so amazed?” What are the characteristics that make this man’s faith so amazing?

The first characteristic is that it causes this man to love across all barriers (vv. 1-2). Jesus has just completed the teaching known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” Now He enters into Capernaum, a city on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. While Jesus is in Capernaum, he is approached by representatives of a Roman Centurion. Centurions are commonplace in the Roman Empire. They are equivalent in rank to a modern-day army captain and normally in command of 100 soldiers. This particular centurion has a servant who is ill. Matthew, in his account of this incident (8:6), uses a term that represents this person as a young child. Whoever this young man is, Luke…whom you will remember is a doctor…says that he “is sick and ready to die.” If you have ever known a loved one that was at death’s door, then you know this centurion’s awful sense of helplessness. We are told that this man loved Israel, even though it is not the land of his birth. It is also evident that this man cares deeply about his young servant, which is very out of the ordinary, socially. He crosses racial and ethnic barriers when he, as a Gentile, appeals to a Jew for help. This man loves people who are not just like himself.

The second characteristic of his amazing faith is that it causes him to be excited and active in the work of God (vv. 3-4). We need to understand that the Jewish elders had little love for the Romans in general and Roman soldiers in particular. This man must have been a very unique individual for the elders to be willing to approach Jesus on his behalf. The elders not only bring the man’s request but they vouch for their Gentile friend. They argue that he is a man of integrity and he was well liked by the Jews, and worthy of Jesus’ help. Verse three says, “The elders, when they approach Jesus say, ‘For he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.’” This man has given substantially to the building of a house of worship. (Gentile worshipers were barred from the Temple in Jerusalem but not so with the synagogue, the synagogue was a place where even a Gentile could come and listen to the word of God being taught.) So during the time and place that this centurion lives, a significant way that God “spreads His light” is the synagogue system. The man uses his money, his reputation and his influence to build a synagogue. This centurion consciously chooses to participate. He enthusiastically involves himself in what is most apparent that God is doing. This story will be continued. 

Michael McCartney shares this – “Before anyone can ever be convinced of the value of involvement and mutuality, that person must come to terms with the consequences of isolationism. The fact is -- we need each other. The other side of the coin is axiomatic: Without each other, unhealthy and unhappy things happen to us. Studies and psychological analyses strongly suggest that individuals cannot function effectively without deep links to others. Continuously meaningful and secure bonds are essential or we risk losing our humanity. Even though it is easy to buy into the selfish lifestyle and opt for isolationism instead of involvement, the consequences are bitter and inescapable. That’s why the simple, profound counsel of Solomon remains so needed: ‘Two are better than one…” Swimming with the current of today’s “me-ism” mindset has a way of eclipsing the contrasting light of Scripture. The truth is whether you want to admit it or not we need each other and we need friends to die for.

This involvement in other’s lives is something that the centurion grasped. It reveals his love and wisdom which are beyond reason. He seems to understand, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that” (Luke 6:32-33)…even though there would seem to be no reasonable way that he could understand. As we remember the example of this centurion I must ask, What is it that God is doing that you are excited about? What is it that matters to you that you are enthusiastically giving yourself to? I believe these are very significant questions. All of us to some extent are aware of what God is doing in the world. There is no such thing as living by great faith while accepting the status quo…it isn’t going to happen. I want to close with this -- “To laugh is to risk appearing the fool. To weep is to risk appearing sentimental. To reach out for another is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self. To place your ideas and your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To live is to risk dying. To hope is to risk despair. To try is to risk failure. But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing. They may avoid suffering and sorrow but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love or live. Charmed by their attitudes they are a slave, they have forfeited their freedom. Only a person who risks is free.” Anonymous

Blessings, Don

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Spirit-filled Life


A young boy asked his father, “How can I believe in the Holy Spirit when I never see Him?” The father, who was an electrician, said, “I will show you.” The boy went with his father down to a power plant in their town. There, he showed his son the generators. “This is where the power comes from to heat our stove and give us light. We cannot see the power, but it is in that machine, and in the power lines.” “I believe in electricity,” said the son. “Of course you do, but you don’t believe in it because you can see it. You believe in it, because you can see what it can do. In a similar way, this is what takes place with the Holy Spirit. We may not see Him, but we see what He can do.” Jesus says a similar thing to Nicodemus in John 3, when he tells him, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (3:8)

We come to a memorable section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:18-20). Some might argue that it is the most important message in the letter, especially as it relates to Christian living. I would be remiss if I did not mention what it is not first, and that is -- an argument for acapella singing in assembly. I have heard the argument…and have made it myself...and I am not necessarily saying it is wrong to do so. But, I believe that this does not respect the context in which it is written, as this passage (along with v.21) describes five ways that we should be filled with the Spirit of God. Paul also shares in Romans 8:16ff that the Spirit helps us, and works with our spirits to help us know we are God’s children and to empower us. It is only by His power that we are able to live in harmony with one another. Paul shares a very important message for believers that are seeking to live as spiritual people.

Paul’s imperative is “to be filled with the Spirit” plural, meaning “Y’all.” This is something that is able to take place for all Christians, and not just a select few. And this is opposed to being “filled with the spirits” (alcohol), which Paul calls dissipation. Dissipation literally means a loss of self-control, which is just the opposite of the Spirit, who offers “the fruit of self-control.” God’s desire is for Him to be “in control”…Satan’s way is to be “out of control.” The drunk makes a fool of himself and calls attention to himself, whereas the Christian glorifies God and is a witness for Christ.

Referencing the John 3 passage once again, Christians experience a “water and Spirit birth” (3:5). We are baptized, cleansed in order to walk in a newness of life…a life filled with God’s personal power at work in our lives…a life filled with His Spirit. As John mentions, we are baptized once, whereas we are able to be “continually cleansed” when we ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:7). This is closely related to the fact that we are able to be continually filled with the Spirit. When we are cleansed, the Spirit is able to fill that void where sin once was residing. For any English enthusiasts, this is a present tense verb – “keep on being filled with the Spirit.” And passive voice, as we do not fill ourselves, but it is God who “fills us.” Once again, this is to be controlled by God’s power…our mind, our emotions, our will under His guidance. When our lives are made full by the Spirit, we are able to experience His fruit – love, joy, peace, etc. (Galatians 5:22-23). We Christians are able to experience contentment, confidence in spite of circumstances around us. Instead of rising and falling with the temperature of the issues around us like a thermometer, when we are “filled with the Spirit”, He…like a thermostat…helps to determine the spiritual temperature of the circumstances. There is a significant difference between these two.

Spirit-filled people have songs in their hearts and on their lips. Through singing or listening to Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs from our hearts, we give glory to God and exemplify Christ. The Spirit is revealed in our eyes, smiles…in our lives. A famous preacher once said, “When speaking of heaven, let your face light up, let it be radiated with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with a reflected glory…but, when you speak of hell, then your ordinary face will do.”

We must remember that Paul is a prisoner when he writes these things. Yet, he is thankful for what God is doing in him and for him. It is not so ironic that the words “gratitude” and “grace” have the same word root. As Paul indicates, if we have experienced the grace of God, then we ought to be grateful for what God brings to us. As the saying goes, “if God brings you to it, He can bring you through it.” When Spirit-filled people find themselves in difficult situations, they give thanks to the Father, in the name of Jesus, and by the power of the Spirit to resolve any fears, anxieties, or worries that seek to undermine their spirits. Being thankful to God is a great secret to a happy home and good relationships.

I want to finish with this – “standing on the deck of a ship in mid-ocean, you can see the sun reflected from its depths. From a little boat on a mountain lake, you can see the sun reflected from its shallow waters. Looking into a small mountain spring, you can see the same great sun. Look into the dew drops of the morning, and there it is again. The sun has a way of adapting itself to its reflection. The ocean is not too large to hold it, nor is the dew drop too small. So, God’s Spirit can fill any person, whether their capacity is like the ocean or the dew drop. Whatever be the capacity, there is opened up the possibility of being filled up with the fullness of God.” Perhaps, you are feeling empty -- being filled is just humble submission away…all we have to do is ask. We are not going to be able to put aside the distractions and difficulties of this life by tackling them on our own, but inasmuch as we allow God to fill us and battle for us are we going to be able to find success in the spiritual battle, and greater faith.

Blessings, Don

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Lord’s Prayer – The Personal Version, pt.1


James Chandler shares this story – “I was driving the other day with my family when a car cut me off. I pulled out to go around him. As I sped up so did he. Faster and faster we both accelerated. Finally I put on the brakes so I could let him go. AS I slowed down, he also slowed down. Now I was furious. (Stop me if this has never happened to you). I looked over at the driver so I could give him a piece of my mind and when I did, I saw a good friend and church member driving the car. He was laughing hysterically. Sometimes on the highway of Christianity, we allow little things to annoy us, to distract us, to make us forget where we are going and why we are going there. I know that I have better days and “worser” days in relationship to this. Sometimes, spiritually speaking, we need to pull over at a rest stop, look at the map and make sure that spiritually we are going the right direction to reach our destination." In a sense, this is what Jesus is modeling by offering His High Priestly prayer on behalf of Himself, the apostles, and for all of His followers. He certainly knew precisely where He was going, as He shares with Thomas and the other disciples back in chapter 14. But, He wants to be certain that we know where we are going, and He offers some significant encouragement along the way. This prayer has been an inspiration to untold millions of people. If we want to be successful in reaching our destination, we need to make what is closest to His heart close to our hearts.

This is the greatest prayer ever prayed on earth and the greatest prayer ever recorded in the Word of God. This chapter is what one has described as “the holy of holies” of the gospel record, and we much approach it with a spirit of humility and reverence. This is all especially fascinating in that we are all privileged to listen to the Son’s conversation with His Father just before He is about to give His life up for (all) sinners. Jesus has just encouraged His disciples by telling them that He has overcome the world. (16:33) And now He prays for their security, their joy, their unity and their future glory. Jesus’ final session of equipping is to ask the Father to be present in a very real and personal way for all of them. As mentioned, He is also praying for us. This is not a cultural thought, but a message with universal and eternal ramifications. He knows that we, likewise, need encouragement.

R.A. Torrey shares, “A prayer for self is not by any means a selfish prayer.” Jesus’ burden was the glory of God, and this glory is going to be fully realized in His finished work on the cross. And the servant of God has every right to ask His Father for the help needed to glorify His name. “The hour has come” reminds us of the divine timetable that Jesus was living according to while He was on the earth. Jesus has known this from the beginning of time as we know it, and He knows that He has been in the will of the Father.

The important word glory is used eight times in this prayer, so we know that this is an important theme. Jesus glorified His Father through the various miracles He performed…but, His greatest glory was thorough His sufferings and death. From our perspective, this is difficult to understand, because Calvary was a terrible display of man’s sin. But, from a divine point of view, the cross revealed and magnified the grace of God. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV) Jesus anticipates His return to heaven when He says, “I have finished the work that You have given me to do.” (17:4) The word give is also an important word, as it is used in one form or another, seventeen times in this section. A number of these uses are related to the fact that Jesus says that believers are the Father’s gift to the Son. We are accustomed to thinking that Jesus’ is the Father’s love gift to us, but the Lord affirms that we are the Father’s love gift to His Son…which is pretty amazing. He is the bridegroom and we, as the church, are His bride.

Yet another important theme is eternal life. It is also mentioned seventeen times. This is God’s free gift to those who believe on His Son. The Father gave His Son the authority to grant eternal life to those whom the Father gave to the Son. From a human perspective, we receive this gift when believe in Jesus Christ and obey the gospel. Eternal life is not something we earn by character of conduct...it is a gift we receive by admitting that we are sinners, who repent and believe on Jesus Christ. Going back to the end of chapter 16 once again, and coming full circle – because we share His life, we are overcomers, for we also share in Jesus’ victory! As John also shares in his first letter, “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4 NIV) This is Good News indeed!

“Some men become proud and insolent because they ride a fine horse, wear a feather in their hat or are dressed in a fine suit of clothes. Who does not see the folly of this? If there be any glory in such things, the glory belongs to the horse, the bird and the tailor.” St. Francis de Sales. It is good for us to remember such things. It is not our place to glory in ourselves, but to accept and live for Jesus’ glory and to magnify Him. It is on the basis of Jesus’ finished work, that we believers have the gift of eternal life. And we are called to the life that our Savior lived. He shares with the disciples back in chapter 13 that a student is not greater than His Master…if He was going to be persecuted and suffer, that we will as well. The matter of suffering and glory must be kept in proper perspective. The Christian experience is not one of grim determination which causes one to face a life of suffering and sorrow with glory to follow later. The Christian life is the abundant life (John 10:10b). It is one of joy and peace...right now! In times of difficulty, our faith is deepened, our fellowship with God is enriched, and we experience deep joy in the midst of difficulties (John 17:13; 1 Peter 4:13; 2 Corinthians 12:10). It is through suffering and adversity that we come to appreciate God as our great reward, as well as our Rewarder. When all of our human resources have been spent, we find our sufficiency in Christ alone (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

As one person has shared, "We have a good measure of life’s pleasures and fulfillments. These the Lord sweetens with His presence and peace, blending the bitter and the sweet in such a way as to bring about His glory and our good." We can rest in these things.

Blessings, Don

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturn Peekaboo


Any picture containing Saturn in it is automatically going to be a favorite for me. There is just something about the rings, of course...but it is also about the colors on the planet itself. Here, in a picture by Jens Hackmann who captures the planet phasing from behind the moon in an intriguing "close-up".

Blessings, Don


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Considering Jesus' Message concerning the Sheep and the Goats


A handwritten paper pinned on the wall of the chapel where Mother Teresa worked in Calcutta, India said: "When I was homeless you opened your doors. When I was naked you gave me your coat. When I was in prison, you came to my cell. When I was lonely, you gave me your love. Searching for kindness you held out your hand. When I was happy, you shared your joy. Every person, often the ones closest to us, is offering a gift -- a chance to love.” This sounds familiar, doesn't it? As one of her humble friends relates -- Mother Teresa was a powerful servant of God. She was more than a Christian saint...her entire life radiated love and service.

Jesus tells this story in Matthew 25:31-46 -- "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

There is a lot to consider here...and most of it is difficult. As I think about it, I do not believe that most people like this story, or they are at least uncomfortable with it. We certainly do not want to be with the goats, yet everyone believes that they are sheep. The truth is likely somewhere in between. Much of this is due to the fact that we like such stories it as they relate to other people, but we do not like them so well as they relate to us. We have been discussing the end times on Wednesday evenings in recent weeks, and some have expressed certain discomfort with passages like the one above, as well as Matthew 7:21-23, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

It has been well-documented that, as a comprehensive church culture, we have become more so a group of consumers (or takers), rather than producers (or givers). To quote a common refrain, “Everyone’s business is nobody’s business” is not a good principle to live by as it relates to the Christian walk for individuals and churches, but it happens all too often. I believe we have come to the point where being challenged, and getting out of our comfort zone is not only not in vogue, it is no longer welcome at all for many believers. We must be what Jesus called us to be – servants in the kingdom of God. We don’t have to preach a sermon or give a lesson…all we have to do is be the hands and feet of Jesus, and share a smile. Some might think that …concerning a service project or difficult ministry situation…“this is not my thing”. Try it! Surprises will be in store, and blessings will be the result. We have to be challenged in order to grow.

Busyness has become an idol (perhaps the predominant idol) in our culture. We are all busy…yet, we have the same 24 hour period as any group of people in history. I truly don’t believe the Lord expects us all to be Mother Teresa…but when we stand before the Lord on judgment day, He is not going to say, “Well, you were awfully busy – terrific.” He is going to ask, “What did you do to prosper the kingdom?” “What did you do to serve?” And, if we say, “Not much, I was too busy.” He might say – “Go take your place with the goats.” Let’s not be as the saying goes – “Most people wish to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.” Knowing full well that we are saved by grace thorough faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and our salvation has been paid for and we have responded accordingly, we have an obligation and a responsibility to live like “saved” people. This is indeed the other side of the coin. From time to time over the years, some have expressed concern to me as to whether they “have done enough” as it relates trying to get there…or trying, in essence, to work for their salvation. This is simply not possible. Others have expressed concern over whether they have done enough in working out their salvation. (Philippians 2:12-13) I believe that this is a much more important question to ask. I will offer this in closing…to quote the famous musician, Keith Green -- “The difference between the sheep and the goats is -- what they did and did not do.”

Blessings, Don

Monday, September 2, 2013



Perhaps you have heard about the guy who fell in love with an opera singer. He hardly knew her, since his only view of the singer was through binoculars - from the third balcony. He was convinced he could live “happily ever after” married to a voice like that. He scarcely noticed that she was considerably older than he was. Nor did he care that she walked with a limp. Her mezzo-soprano voice would take them through whatever might come. After a whirlwind romance and a hurry-up ceremony, they were off for their honeymoon. She began to prepare for their first night together. As he watched, his chin dropped to his chest. She plucked out her glass eye and plopped it into a container on the night-stand. She pulled off her wig, ripped off her false eyelashes, yanked out her dentures, unstrapped her artificial leg, and smiled at him as she slipped off her glasses that hid her hearing aid. Stunned and horrified, he gasped, “For goodness sake, woman, sing, sing, SING!” (From Charles Swindoll, “Strike the Original Match”)

It was easy for the man to think and say that her voice would take them through whatever might come. But he didn’t realize what he was getting into. I suppose that this is why Paul tells the Roman Christians in 12:9-21, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Words come easy, but actions are not always so easy to follow through. This thought leads off a series of important virtues that Christians are to live in relationship with others. It is these characteristics that we will explore today. Paul tells the Roman Christians that they have a responsibility in their service to the Lord and to one another. There are several principles that they are to maintain in their lives. These also apply to us in helping us to experience good, growing relationships.

Many interpret God’s love to be some “wishy, washy” matter...but Agape love is not about happy, happy, happy (although I love “happy, happy, happy”). It is about doing something for people. It is about being active in our service for someone else. It is “the circulatory system for the spiritual body.” And it needs to be sincere…that is, “without hypocrisy” – there is nothing fake about it. We should strive for honesty and trust in all of our relationships, because these are foundational principles to building relationships.

Paul asks that we show loyalty in our devotion to each other, being concerned that we treat one another with honor. And this is certainly as it should be in our relationship with God. We should be as loyal to Him as He was to us through His Son. This is a virtue that…in a great way…has gone missing in our culture. People will be loyal as long things are good, or as long as it is going their way…but as soon as there are difficulties, many will bolt. They do not realize that it is “weathering the storms” with our friends and church families that draw us even closer, and grow us spiritually.

Diligence is important…having an attitude that is focused upon serving to the best of our abilities….looking for opportunities to do good. I am afraid that this is also often found wanting. Many may serve on occasion, but only when it is convenient…and many are not going to be inconvenienced, or diligent to serve.

Hospitality is shared by those who love one another. This used to always be having people over for dinner…and this is still important. But, many times, it is going out to meals with friends, or even sending them out on a date with a gift card – whatever works.

Paul asks that we share sympathy with one another…that we feel with one another when there are joys and sorrows. These things build our relationships and make us stronger, as well.

Humility is the key to keeping relationships straight…if we are in the wrong, we swallow our pride and seek to make things right. If we have been wronged, then we live with a forgiving heart.

Jesus speaks about how important it is to make peace with one another to the best of our ability (Mark 9:50, etc.)…and Paul says that as far as it depends upon us, this should be the case.

He goes on to tell the Roman believers that their attitudes and actions are regularly under scrutiny by those who are non-believers. We need to be careful that our conduct upholds the standards of our Lord. Even when we do the right things and say the right things, everything is not always going to go right. As Paul indicates, we always need to do what is right, regardless, and often we can win over our enemies or those who oppose us. Christians live at a higher level, returning good for evil. Good for evil requires faith. As we love, serve as our Lord did, we learn to grow in grace, and become better servants for Him!

“Never cast aside your friends if by any possibility you can retain them. We are the weakest of spendthrifts if we let a friend drop off through inattention, or let one push away another, or if we hold aloof from one for petty jealousy of heedless slight or roughness. If there is coolness or unkindness between us, let us come face to face and have it out…quickly, before love grows cold. Would you throw away a diamond because it pricked you? One good friend is not to be weighed against the jewels of all the earth.” – Anonymous

I close with something I wrote a few years ago – freedom to love. True love cannot be the result of decree, force or manipulation. Anything that I do to deprive someone of the right to choose is a violation of his or her personhood. When I sense that my own right to choose is being threatened, then I know that I am not being loved...and the doors to ministry are not open. Paul tells the Corinthians that "love does not seek its own" (13:5b). Many times, the best solution is to yield until I feel free to make the right choice. Many in our society, and even some believers, see submission as a sign of weakness. I think that all we have to do is look to the life of our Lord and Savior to understand that submission is indeed a sign of grace and strength.

Blessings, Don