Tag Archives: faith

1 Corinthians 12-16

1Corinthians13v01to13_2010

“Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org”

Monday, June 23, Chapter 12

In the first three verses Paul is saying that the rules of the pagan gods do not apply with the One True God.  No one speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit will ever speak against God, Jesus, the Messiah, or the Spirit.  What was happening in Corinth was a rise in emotionalism.  We know people today who flit from one religious group to another seeking the religious high.  Paul was saying that emotion can overtake a person to the point of distorting the Good News.  We must balance the emotion, the necessary emotion, with what we have learned, what we know.

Within the Christian Community there are many skills and powers.  Do not demean your own skills, all are for God’s work.  Paul equates this whole chapter to the Trinity.  Jesus gives each of us our own task to do for the Kingdom.  The Holy Spirit gives us the ability, the power, the skill to do the task.  God gives us the energy to accomplish the task.  This is not necessarily the same as the natural abilities we have at birth.  Because I can run faster than anyone else is a part of my body, but it may not be the gift Jesus wants me to use for the Kingdom.

The remainder of the chapter is a thorough description of the body of Christ.

Tuesday, June 24, Chapter 13

Chapter 13 actually begins with 12:31.  Paul is saying you Corinthians are trying to reach the higher plane, but you are going about it in the wrong way.  Here is the way.

Kenneth Bailey gives this important outline:

Love and the spiritual gifts (13:1-3)

Opens with tongues, prophecy and knowledge

Closes with faith, hope and love

 

Love defined (13:4-7)

Opens with an indirect reference to knowledge

Closes with faith, hope and love

 

Love and the spiritual gifts (13:8-13)

Opens with tongues, prophecy and knowledge

Ends with faith, hope and love.

 

In verse 1 Paul used his personal experience to connect with the Corinthians.  He spent 18 months working in the central market making tents with Aquila and Priscilla.  Corinthian brass was the best in the Roman world and all of the craftsmen worked at the central market.  The downside of that is there are several hundred workers hammering brass from sunrise to sunset.  The noise could be heard all over the city.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 13, 1934 in London:  In the first place it is very simple, what is being said here—that a human life is only meaningful and worthwhile to the extent that it has love in it, and that a life is nothing, is meaningless and worthless, when it is without love.  A life is worth as much as the love in it.  Everything else is nothing at all, a matter of indifference, unimportant.  All the good and bad, big and little things are unimportant.  Only one thing is asked of us—whether or not we have love.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 21, 1934 in London:  Last Sunday we learned that despite all our ideals, our seriousness, our knowledge, and our faith, even our good deeds and sacrifice, our lives are worth nothing if we do not have that one thing that Paul calls love…. Every person has love within him or her and knows its power and passion…. However, this love, with its power and passion and meaning, which everyone knows, is self-love—our love for our own selves…. But this self—love is love that has gone wrong, that has fallen away from its origin.  It is self-satisfied and is therefore condemned never to bear fruit—a love that is really hatred of God and my brother and sister, because they could only disturb me within the tight little circle I have drawn around myself….

So it pretends, veils itself, and dresses itself up in a thousand different forms, trying to look like real love—and it succeeds so well that human eyes can hardly tell the difference between the real thing and the fake.  Self-love disguises itself as love of our neighbor or our country, as public charity, as love of humankind, trying not to be recognized for what it really is.  Yet Paul cuts through all of self-love’s attempts to cloud the issue and to deceive and compels it to face its proper responsibility by drawing for it, for us, his picture of what God considers real love.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 28, 1934 in London:  In troubled times, if we stop to ask ourselves what will really come of all our agitation, when our thoughts go back and forth from one idea to another: what will come of all our worries and fears, all our wishes and hopes, in the end—and if we are willing to have answer from the Bible—what we will hear is:  There will be just one thing in the end, and that is the love that was in our thoughts, worries, wishes, and hopes.  Everything else ends and passes away—everything we did not think, and long for, out of love.  All thoughts, all knowledge, all talk that has not love comes to an end—only love never ends….

Why must everything else come to an end, and why does only love never end?  Because only in love does a person let go of himself or herself and give up his or her will, for the other person’s benefit.  Because love alone comes not from my own self but from another self, from God’s self.  Because it is through love alone that God acts through us—whereas in everything else it is we ourselves who are at work; it is our thoughts, our speaking, our knowledge—but it is God’s love.  And what is ours comes to an end, all of it—but what is of God remains.  Because love is God’s very self and God’s will; that is why it never ends, it never doubts, it stays its course.  It pursues its way with sure steps, like a sleepwalker, straight through the midst of all the dark places and perplexities of this world.  It goes down into the depths of human misery and up to the heights of human splendor.  It goes out to enemies as well as to friends, and it never abandons anyone, even when it is abandoned by everyone.

Paul Tillich adds these thoughts on the same verses:  But there is another consideration in our text which seems to contradict the words about love.  Paul singles out knowledge, and points to the difference between our fragmentary, indirect and darkened knowledge, and the full, direct and total knowledge to come…. He speaks of something which, besides love, is perfect and eternal—namely, the seeing of the truth, face to face; the knowledge which is as full as God’s knowledge of us….

But there is only one way to know a personality—to become united with that personality through love.  Full knowledge presupposes full love.  God knows me, because He love me; and I shall know Him face to face through a similar uniting, which is love and knowledge at the same time.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, November 4, 1934 in London:  Faith and hope abide.  Let no one think it possible to have love without faith and without hope!  Love without faith would be a stream without a source.  That would mean that one could have love without Christ.  Through faith alone we are justified before God, through hope we are prepared for our end, and through love we are made perfect.

Through faith alone we are justified—our Protestant church is built on this sentence.  To the human question, how can I stand before God?  Luther found the one answer in the Bible:  if you believe in God’s grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.  To the question of how human beings can be justified before God, the answer is through grace alone, through faith along.  We would be entirely right if, here at the end, we turned the first sentence of the chapter around and said, and if I have all love, so as to accomplish all good works, but have not faith, I am nothing.  Faith alone justifies—but love makes perfect.

Wednesday, June 25, Chapter 14

Verse 1 from the Amplified Bible:  Eagerly pursue and seek to acquire [this] love [make it your aim, your great quest]; and earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments (gifts), especially that you may prophesy (interpret the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching).

Or more simply from CJB:  Pursue love!

However, keep on eagerly seeking the things of the Spirit; and especially seek to be able to prophesy.

We do not know the history of speaking in tongues, nor do we know what it means to speak in tongues.  This letter to Corinth is the only mention outside of Acts.  Paul uses the same two Greek words, laleo (to speak) and glossa (tongues) that Luke uses in Acts.  About the only point of agreement is that the term, to speak in tongues, means either speaking an existing language without having learned the language, or speaking in a language used in heaven not understood by humans.

The problem in Corinth was not laleoglossa, rather the abuse of it.  Services were being interrupted by people shouting or speaking what no one else could understand.  Many were saying that it was proof of the person’s higher spirituality.

Paul basically said do not do it unless there is a translation that will improve the congregation.  The key to understanding Paul’s position is found in verses 14-15.

In this discussion we should read Deuteronomy 28:49-50:  The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young.

Also Isaiah 28:11-12:  Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
God will speak to this people,

 to whom he said,
“This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”—
but they would not listen
.

Verse 22 points out that believers do not need tongues.  Starting in verse 26 Paul gives an outline to be followed in a proper worship service.  He does not say that we have to follow that outline.  It is intended for Corinth.  It is a generalization only for the rest of us.

Verse 34 gets us back to the touchy subject of women in worship.  Paul has already said that women may teach, preach, and prophecy, so he is not now trying to silence them.  He is addressing the same problem caused by those speaking in tongues, they were causing disruptions in the service.  Women, with their new sense of freedom, were disrupting the services with questions and idle chit-chat.

Consider that the congregation at Corinth had rich and poor, slave and free speaking twenty or more languages.  Greek was the only common language, but most knew only enough to buy bread at the market, especially the women who were at home most of the day.  For some of those women, church was the only time they left the house.  It was social time for them, so they spend the time talking with women they know.

The service is going on in a language most of the people struggle with at best.  It is natural to ask, “What did he say?”  In no time at all there is a buzz drowning out the speakers.  Corinth is not alone in this problem.  I have been able to attend church a number of times on trips to Haiti.  Even with a small group there is a constant murmur of talk.

Kenneth Bailey wrote:  I have preached in village churches in Egypt where the women were seated on one side of the church and the men on the other.  There was a wooden partition about six feet high separating the two sections.  I preached in simple colloquial Arabic, but the women were often illiterate and the preacher was expected to preach for at least an hour—and we had problems.  The women quickly passed the limit of their attention span.  [Another result of illiteracy and staying at home.]  The children were seated with them and chatting inevitably broke out among the women.  The chatting would at times become so loud that no one could hear the preacher…. One of the senior elders would stand up and in a desperate voice shout, “Let the women be silent in the church!” and we would proceed.  John Chrysostom wrote of the same problem in his cathedral at Antioch around 400 AD.

In verses 26-36, Paul cautions prophets (male and female), speakers in tongues (male and female), and married women with their husbands, all to be silent in church.  Do not interrupt the service.

Kenneth Bailey again:  But there is a further reality at play.  Middle Eastern society is predominantly an oral cultural.  I experienced this for seventeen years in Egypt, seventeen years in Syria and Lebanon, and for ten years in Israel and Palestine.  People process information by talking more than by sitting quietly and reflecting.  This can be observed at many levels of society.  A university professor will have the attention of the class and turn to write something on the blackboard.  The moment he or she pauses to write, the entire class breaks out talking.  They are not inattentive or rude, they are simply turning to a fellow student and chatting about the subject.  This social style is particularly prominent at meetings of women.  Taking advantage of any pause, women will often begin talking out loud—sometimes to themselves.  They are simply verbalizing the information they have heard in order to better absorb and retain it….

Paul picks up on these legitimate questions and in effect says,

I know your Greek is limited.  But your husbands have learned a bit more Greek than you have managed to absorb.  They have to in order to function on the job.  You have not had this chance and it is not your fault.  But things have gotten out of hand on a numberof levels.  Please be helpful and put your questions to your husbands after you return home.  I have just told the speakers when to be quiet.  This is a situation in which you also need to listen quietly even if you can’t follow what is said.

The word shame has a different meaning in the Middle East than here.  It is extremely important, but it covers all possible actions and words.  If I say to a friend that my wife does not look good in red, I bring shame on myself in the East.  Paul says to women, do not bring shame on your husbands by chattering in church; and by the way, husbands do not bring shame on your wives by chattering back.

Thursday, June 26, Chapter 15

Recall that much of the first four chapters were devoted to the cross.  Now Paul revisits the theme to deal primarily with the resurrection.

Verses 1 and 11 are connected.

1Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.

11Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

He stresses that we must receive the Gospel preached by Jesus and believe it.

Verses 2 and 10 also stand together:

2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Paul warns the Corinthians that they must stick firmly to what they have learned from Paul, Apollos, and Peter.  Do not bend the Word to suit yourselves.

The remaining verses, 3-9, hold together with Paul appearing in 3 and in 9.  Verses 4-8 are almost certainly quoted by Paul from an early church creed.  He is reminding the Corinthians, this is what we all believe; do not lose sight of it.

Verse 3 uses the word for, as in:  Christ died for our sins.  Today, we generally speak of Jesus being our substitute on the cross; that Jesus had to take on that role to settle accounts with God for our sins.  While that is part of the picture, it fails to consider that Jesus is God, so God paid the price to settle accounts with God.  That does not make much sense.

Jesus makes it plain.  The shepherd risks all to save the lost sheep.  The woman searches until she finds the lost coin.  The father runs to greet his lost son.  One after another, we see pictures of God in action in our lives in every day in every way.  God saves.

How should I live my life if I love God and love mankind?  I do what Jesus did.  He was God in human form.

Yes, he died for our sins, but he also died because of our sins, because we could do nothing about them, because they could only be erased by Grace.

Verses 12-20 make up one argument.  The two verses, 12 and 20, state that Christ rose from the grave.  The verses in between are a “What If?”

Verses 21-28 give us the world view of history, from Adam to now.  Death came to us from man, Adam, now life comes from Man, Christ.  Notice in 26 that that death is the last enemy.  Jesus’ resurrection defeated that enemy.  We will rise from our graves with Jesus.

In verses 29-34 Paul discusses the importance of the resurrection.  He begins with an important question:  Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?  The last phrase has created a long list of possible explanations.  On behalf of whom?  Likely Paul is saying that a number of people have become Christians after the deaths of their loved ones who themselves were Christians.  They began to consider the idea of resurrection and decided it was likely and they wanted a part of the great victory.

As to the beasts in Ephesus, Kenneth Bailey writes:  Paul knows full well the risks he is taking in Ephesus.  Any foreigner who would dare enter a city like Ephesus and preach a message undermining the financial security of the “establishment” would be in grave danger.  This was particularly true when the patron goddess of the city was involved.  Because of Paul’s preaching, the goddess of the city was under attack and income from “tourism” was threatened.  Who would complain if the corpse of the foreigner who was causing this disruption was dumped into the harbor some moonless night?

In verses 35-50 Paul returns to Adam and Christ.  He begins with the question we Christians often ask ourselves out of curiosity:  What kind of body will we have in Heaven?  For Paul, the question is ridiculous.  We will have the bodies given to us by God, our old bodies will no longer exist.

Our bodies will be perfect and will never wear out.  They will be different, they will not even be like the bodies of Adam and Eve in the Garden, but will be unique heavenly bodies more like the body of Jesus before his ascension.

For the last verses, let us read from the sermon delivered by Dietrich Bonhoeffer on November 26, 1939.  Imagine a small group of seminary students huddled in an old farm house without electricity or running water, trying to hide from the Nazis as the war approached the end of its second month.  They are celebrating the Last Supper and Bonhoeffer has chosen verse 55 for the text:  Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

You are invited to a victory celebration—to the celebration of the greatest victory won in the world, the victory of Jesus Christ over death.  Bread and wine, body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are the signs of victory, for Jesus lives and is present in these signs today, the same Jesus who, almost two thousand years ago, was nailed to the cross and laid in the grave.  Jesus arose from the dead, burst asunder the rock before the tomb, and remained the victor.  Today, you are to receive the signs of his victory.  And later, whenever you receive the blessed bread and blessed chalice, you should know:  just as certainly as I eat this bread and drink this wine, just as certainly has Jesus Christ remained the victor over death, and just as certainly is he the living Lord who meets me.

Friday, June 27, Chapter 16

Paul, a missionary sent by the Church in Jerusalem, took upon himself the extra mission of supporting the struggling congregation in the Holy City.  We may wonder about that, but consider that they served as the headquarters for all the church activities throughout the Roman world.  All missionaries, and they may have numbered in the hundreds by the time of this letter, were sent by and supported by the one church.

Paul’s plans depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit.  As of this writing, he expects to remain in Ephesus before working his way north along the coast and around through Macedonia again before reaching Corinth.

Paul had already sent Timothy and Erastus (Acts 19:22) into Macedonia with instructions to go on to Corinth from there.  Paul told the church that they should pay for Timothy’s travel back to Paul.

Again from Kenneth Bailey:  In his book Jesus in Beijing, David Aikman describes the house church movement in China.  He tells of the outreach of the Tanghi Fellowship in the Henan province.  In 1994 the Fellowship selected, trained and commissioned seventy young evangelists.  They were given about $200 each and sent to twenty-two of China’s thirty provinces.  They were also given one-way tickets to their destinations and told to return after six months using the funds they would receive from the new house fellowships they were to establish.  Exactly six months later, on October 10, 1994, all of the managed to meet the deadline and return to headquarters.  No one had died and there were only two short-term arrests.  New communities of Christians were started in many places.  Simultaneously, at five different locations, the young evangelists reported on their six months of ministry.  Mr. Zing, one of the leaders of the fellowship, reported to Mr. Aikman,

When we heard their testimonies, everybody was crying.  They wore out their shoes, they were rejected by people.  They lived in ditches and in forests.  Some of them lived with pigs.  In the meetings, God showed his love to us.  We were joyful because they all came back alive.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Temptation

 

00803

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Psalm 32

Sin is now the human condition.  It is fruitless to speculate about what life in the Garden would have been like had Adam and Eve not sinned.  We live in sin.

Because of the destructiveness of sin, it is imperative that we learn to control it.  History shows us the folly of our attempts.

A close look at Adam and Eve can help us.  When the sin occurred, they were away from God, not looking at Him, not paying attention to Him.  Rather, they saw what looked scrumptious and reached for it, they fell to temptation.

Solutions?  We can study the problem and learn ways to avoid many sins.  Often, that involves the approach of alcoholics, avoid that which tempts.   Pharisee men used to walk on the other side of the street if a woman was coming toward them.  Stay away from the Christmas fudge eating contest.

In the end, all we can ever hope is to reduce sin in our lives, never to eliminate it.  We must take the approach of King David and ask God to cover our sins.  My sins are too numerous for me to keep track, mostly because I sin without knowing it.  I meet a female friend and say, “You look nice today.”  She thinks I am flirting.  I meet a female friend and say nothing.  She thinks I am stuck up.  Sin on my part?  Perhaps, but not intended.

How does God cover over our sins?  We Christians are fond of saying, “Jesus.”  But God has a whole tool shed filled with ways to cover our sins, mercy being high on the list.  It is not for us to know all of the whats and ways, He just does it.

Jesus is the main tool in the shed.  He met the Evil One head on, but kept himself focused on his Father.  The account of his temptations is helpful for us in our own puny efforts to defend against the temptations of the Evil One, but we can also study how Jesus reacted throughout his ministry.

When he healed, he told them not to advertise.  When the crowds became too large, he went in hiding.  When temptation came on strongly, he went into prayer.  Jesus did everything he could do to avoid becoming impressed with himself.

When Jesus went back home, the people who had known him as a child could not believe all the talk about miracles and his being an extraordinary teacher.  He was too ordinary.  He looked just like his brothers.  Remember, he was such a sickly kid.  His brother James is the one to watch, he’s a go-getter.  Jesus is just a flash in the pan.

Jesus needed to hear all that.  It reminded him he was one of us.  He was capable of sin.  Do not give him too much Godly power in your thinking.  He was a human.  He was Adam.  Unlike Adam, Jesus made smart decisions.  He never did anything without consulting God.

That is the solution, but we are not up doing it.  So?  Ask God to cover your sin.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 6-10

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, January 13, Chapter 6

A good Jew in Jesus’ day preformed three acts of righteousness : charity, prayer, and fasting.  Pharisees and many others did all three like theatre, only with an audience present.  The message from Jesus is to do these things from the heart.  Giving money in our time is easy, but it separates us from those in need and most of the time does not help them.  Only ten percent of charity dollars in the US actually help those in need.

When we pray, we should be listening to God.  Jesus gave us a sample prayer encouraging us to pray only for the basics of life, after that, we listen.

Fasting is not very popular in the US, we prefer feasting.  There are many ways to fast, but it should always be built around prayer.  The whole purpose is to give up something so we can concentrate on God for at least a day.  For modern Americans a gadget/electronic fast would be a good choice.  Try going a Sunday without TV (after the Super Bowl) and read or go for a long walk to talk with God.

We also like to feast on money and the things money can buy.  We are always on the lookout for whatever we especially like, cars, clothes, toys, what-nots.  Storing up treasures is not the same as a 401k or passbook account.  We live in a society where we expect to live 85 years without any help from our families, so we need to prepare for that.  Storing treasures is collecting beyond our needs and focusing on that instead of God.  Anything standing between me and God is darkness.

Jesus ends this section with a kind of summary.  If we trust in God, all those possessions we think we need fall away.  Living in trust makes life simple.  The only day we can live is today.

Tuesday, January 14, Chapter 7

Judging others is another hard teaching from Jesus, for we Americans especially. We are number 1 with the best way of life possible; everyone should follow our example.  As a Christian, I look at non-Christians, and fellow Christians, as not being as close to God as I am; exactly like the Pharisees.

We need  open fellowship with everyone, just the way Jesus did it.  Fellowship, not proselytizing or converting, until they knock on that door.

God will answer our knock at the door.  He will answer our questions and help us find what we seek.  Always remember that what we seek is Heaven.

Consider this passage from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship.  And it is hard to find.  On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn.  To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way.

Again from Bonhoeffer:  There is someone standing by my side, who looks just like a member of the Church.  He is a prophet and a preacher.  He looks like a Christian, he talks and acts like one.  But dark powers are mysteriously at work; it was these who sent him into our midst.

We must be ever watchful for false prophets, they are not just in ancient times.  They are members of every church.  They misuse the Word to get us to follow them, not God.  Watch.

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by reminding us to build our Faith on the Solid Foundation of the Word of God.

Wednesday, January 15, Chapter 8

Now Matthew has Jesus move into a healing ministry, taking up all of chapter 8 and most of 9.  He begins with the healing of a leper, a task considered  as likely as raising the dead.  Note that the man knelt before Jesus, a word which often meant to worship.  The man knew that Jesus could heal him and Jesus did so.  The man’s faith was the important element.

Telling the man to say nothing indicates that this event did occur early in Jesus ministry.  Jesus was still trying to avoid conflict with the Temple authorities.  He had much to carry out before that last fateful encounter leading to the cross.  None-the-less, Jesus sent the man to the Temple to asked for cleansing by the priests, showing us that Jesus was no enemy of the Temple of God, only of those who corrupted it.

The centurion’s servant is an unsual healing in several ways.  Capernaum was Jesus headquarters, but was also a Greek/Roman city.  This centurion commanded a cohort or century of about 80 men, one of six in a legion.  The legion stationed in Capernaum was not Roman.  It was working for Herod Antipas, though trained by the Romans.  A centurion would equal a captain in the US Army.

He had wealth and power, but he came to Jesus in much the way the leper had, in a state of faith.  While none of the men in the legion in Capernaum were Jewish, this centurion, a gentile, believed.

With the healing of Peter’s mother, we again see Jesus touching her, but nothing else. He spoke no words, made no reference to faith.  Three different types of healing: a man of faith healed with a touch, a gentile’s request for another healed from a great distance, and Mary simply touched.

In verses 18-22, Jesus is again telling us to keep our full attention on God.  We cannot use excuses when God asks us to do something for him.  We must always do God’s work first.

Jesus gives us a great example of how to live that last section of chapter 6.  He knew God was taking care of him, so he slept through the storm.  The storms in our own lives continue to upset us because we are not willing to put our complete trust in God.

The demonic men on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (really a lake) present a strange picture as the demons fly into pigs.  We can see that the story is more about the reaction than about the men being healed of possession.  The region of Gadarenes was not Jewish, so we wonder why Jesus went there.  In this account, Jesus spoke only the word, go.  He traveled some distance through a storm for that one brief encounter.

Mark and Luke include the story as well and show more about the men, but for Matthew, the reaction of the people was important.  They told Jesus to get out of Dodge, he had messed with their livelihoods.

Note that the disciples had just questioned among themselves who this Jesus was, but the demons knew at once and announced it loudly.

Finally, note that the death of the pigs did not mean the death of the demons, that comes at the end of time.  But we do see the power of Jesus the Messiah over them.

Thursday, January 16, Chapter 9

Jesus sails back to the western shore, to Capernaum, where he meets a paralyzed man.  It is reasonable to assume the man was well-known and since Capernaum was the hometown of Andrew, Peter, James, and John, it is reasonable to assume they knew him personally.  In other words, he was not a plant, he could not walk.  On this occasion, Jesus teaches a different lesson.  He tells the man his sins are forgiven.

Only God can forgive sins, so the learned rabbis and scribes were fuming.  Jesus cleared it up by healing the man.  Since only God could do that, Jesus is God.

Jewish society of the day had an informal ranking of occupations, with priests and rabbis at the top of respectability and tax collectors near the bottom; hide tanners were lower and shepherds were only a little above the tax men.  For Jesus to call such a sinful man to follow him was a sure way of getting kicked off the social A-list.

Jesus did fast and maybe the disciples did as well, but Jesus kept it private.  There is no sign that John himself questioned Jesus.  It was some of his followers.

The raising of the dead girl becomes more dramatic by having the woman stop Jesus’ progress to save her first.  Back with the girl, Jesus does not make any claim to raising the dead.  He insists that she is asleep.  The flute players and the noisy crowd tells us that the house was already in mourning for the girl.  They believed she was dead.

The woman,  bleeding for 12 years, healed by touching the tassel of Jesus’ prayer shawl.  Jews used the words for tassels and hem interchangeably in regard to the prayer shawl.  There were four tassels representing connection with the priest and with God.

None-the-less, it was her faith that healed her.

The blind, also by their faith.

Driving out demons was becoming so common that Matthew does not bother to describe the event.

With 7 billion people in the world, we followers of Jesus have much to do.

Friday, January 17. Chapter 10

In verse 1, the 12 are disciples, and in verse 2, they are apostles.  The Greek word apostolos means messenger.  Jesus chose 12 for special duties from a group of a hundred or more disciples.  Here, for the first time,  Matthew calls them apostles and has them sent into the harvest field and be  messengers of the Good News.

The rest of the chapter is a lengthy set of instructions.

Jesus’ ministry was always to Israel.  After his resurrection, the 12 would be commissioned to go to the rest of the world.

On this journey, depend on the people to support you. Do not even take a change of clothes.  If a town rejects you, move on.

Try to avoid trouble with the legal authorities.  For Jesus, having his apostles arrested could encourage the authorities to arrest him as well.

Remember that you are my students.  Do what I do, do not go your own way.  Do not be afraid.

Back in Matthew 5:9, we read, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  Here, he says he has come to bring a sword.  It is a figure of speech.  Jesus is about Peace, but that gets people upset, so they think he and his followers are dangerous.  The stories in the New Testament tell us what happens; families are split, people attacked, beaten, jailed, killed.  Jesus does not wield a sword, but he has brought one into play.

Our families are important, but Jesus comes first. Nothing in this life is greater than Jesus.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Faith is Work

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

I want to share a passage from a book written in 1966 by Langdon Gilkey.  As a young man just before the war, he journeyed to Peking (Beijing) China to teach English and was caught there when the Japanese army took over the city.  In February, 1943 he and some 1,600 other foreign civilians were taken to camp to live out the war.  There, they were expected to organize themselves and run the camp within the walls.  The Japanese gave them small food allotments, but generally left them on their own.  The section I will quote comes from the chapter Saints, Priests, and Preachers and begins on page 163 of my first edition.

A community needs ethical people, but does the secular world need religious people?  Are the saints really good, is religious piety a requisite for communal virtue, do we need God in order to love our fellow man?  ….

I had to admit to myself that no easy answer to these questions could be found merely by noting the way in which different types of people, religious and irreligious, behaved….

The most important lesson I learned is that there are no cut-and-dried categories in human life, no easily recognizable brand names by which we can estimate our fellows.  Over and over “respectable people,” one of the commonest labels applied in social intercourse, turned out to be uncooperative, irritable, and worse, dishonest.  Conversely, many who were neither respectable nor pious were in fact, valiant.  At the same time, many obvious bums were just plain bums.  It was the mystery, the richness, and the surprise of human beings that struck me the most when I looked round at my fellows.

Perhaps the most surprising of all was Clair Richards.  She was a handsome, strong, self-sufficient, and possibly to some tastes hard-looking British woman in her thirties.  As she swirled around the camp in her tight skirts and low-cut blouses, you knew the moment you saw her that she enjoyed boing to bed with men.  But I must say, the frank and competent stare that met you when you spoke to her, plus her booming voice and rollicking laugh, tended to make a man, at least a young man, wonder more about his own capacities than about her obvious attractions.  Inevitably, stories of a lurid past in Peking and Tientsin [Tiajin], of her having been the intimate of leading industrialists and diplomats, followed in her wake.  How true or untrue these were, I shall never know.

[In 1944 a new director of Kitchen II, Row, was elected to stop theft and sloppy work.]

I was even more surprised when I found that it was Clair to whom he had given charge of women’s labor in the kitchen….  Despite her well-advertised labels, Clair had these virtues and to spare.  Clair, with Row, completely changed both the morale and efficiency of that kitchen force.  Looked upon by most of the pious as so wicked they were embarrassed to be seen talking with her she had in fact a higher moral character than they did.

Shantung Compound  Harper & Row  1966  New additions are still being sold.

 

Exposition

Habakkuk’s short prophetic work could almost be called the Reader’s Digest version of Jeremiah.  While that would be a disservice to Jeremiah, they did deliver the same basic message to the same people in the same general time period, along with Nahum and Zephaniah.  Put simply, you have sinned, you will be taken into captivity by Babylon, God still loves you and he will return you.

The big message for us is in the last words of today’s reading: the righteous will live by his faith.  The thing about faith that has always been so difficult for we humans to get is, we live it, we don’t just have it.  We always talk about having faith in the same way we talk about having a car.  We don’t have faith, we act in faith.

Habakkuk was not complaining about improper sacrifices at the Temple or about drinking milk with a roast beef sandwich.  He was after what was truly faith living.  Avigayil down the street lost her husband and has three kids to support.  What have you done to help her?  Natan‘el broke his leg and can’t work.  Have you taken care of the work for him?

In some ways, it was easier 3,000 years ago because they literally knew almost everyone they came into contact with and could easily know their needs.  Today, we have to work at getting to know the people next door.  How can I know what they need if I don’t even know who they are?

The answer from Habakkuk is: find a way.  Faith goes into the unknown, the dark places we are afraid of and seeks out those who are hiding there.  Faith does not concern itself with the surface trappings of our lives.  We cannot hide behind our own ignorance.  With the Psalmist we must say, give me understanding that I may live.

I wrote in an earlier exposition that faith either exist or it does not exist.  The disciples had just asked Jesus to increase their faith and he gave the example of the mustard seed.  Here in 2 Thessalonians, Paul says, your faith is growing more and more.  Both statements are true, like so many theological concepts.  What Jesus wanted his disciples to understand was that they and we cannot measure how much faith we have, we can only act on the faith we have.  Paul adds that by acting on faith we receive more understanding so that we can live faith even more fully.

Zacchaeus is very much like Claire in the account from Gilkey above.  He was a social outcast because he, a Jew, worked for the hated Romans and collected taxes two, three, ten times what the Romans required, keeping the extra for himself.  He was wealthy beyond the dreams of working people, then or now.

We are not told much else about him.  He met Jesus and gave away half of his fortune.  (Don’t get distracted by asking why not all.)  Jesus said, today salvation has come to this house.  Zacchaeus acted.  He could not allow himself to simply say, I love you Jesus.  Not only did he give away more money than most people would make in a lifetime, he reformed.  From then on he would only collect the taxes plus enough for him to live on.  Greed no longer ruled his live.  What happened to him after that is lost to us.

But what is not lost is the next verses just after today’s Gospel reading.  While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.  When the Kingdom of God comes, salvation will come with it.  Look back a paragraph to the statement Jesus made about salvation.

If Zacchaeus received salvation, a dirty, disgusting, money-grubbing, scumbag, surely salvation has also come to the rest of us.  To read ahead even more, the answer is, it depends on what we do with our faith, love, devotion to God.  God has entrusted me with a precious gift.  Will I use it, wear it out, and bring it back dinged up and dusty from meeting the needs of others?

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Second Chances

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Luke has done something very interesting by placing this event immediately after the fig tree parable which starts in verse 6.  Farmers understand the idea that a fig tree, or any other plant, that does not yield fruit has to be eliminated to make room for those that do yield.  Yet, in the parable, the tree was given another chance.  The main point being that God gives Israel and each of us second chances.
Now Luke places Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath with a woman.  Picture a room perhaps the size of the average Seven-Eleven.  There are benches along the sides, but most of the men are standing or sitting on the floor.  The elders use the benches.  At the very back, or if it is a well-to-do synagogue, in the balcony are the women.  Jesus, as a visiting rabbi, has been invited to read the scripture and comment on it, so he is near the front of the room where the ark is positioned.  The ark is the cabinet containing the Holy Scrolls.
So, Jesus is teaching and people are either enthralled or repealed by his words, when he spots the woman who can barely lift her eyes high enough to see him.  Jesus did the unthinkable.  No other Jewish man on earth that day would have done what he did.  His Twelve Apostles probably gasped out loud.  He asked the woman to come forward.
You have to understand that in the synagogue on Saturday, a man would not even look at his wife, even if she went into labor.  The other women would take care of her.  He probably wouldn’t even turn around for fear of catching a glimpse of her or any other woman.  And that was not just the Pharisees.  Even Jews who seldom went to synagogue would have known the rule.
I’m sure men were suddenly interested in the floor.  Let’s hope it has a beautiful mosaic to help them focus their attention away from the woman.  We wouldn’t want them to be defiled. Jesus, on the other hand, ignored all decorum.  He first spoke to her, then touched her.  I imagine some men hurried away at that point.  This was not a small infraction.  Jesus chose to do something that hit people between the eyes. He worked on the Sabbath by healing the woman.  He brought a woman to the front of the synagogue.  He spoke to a woman in the synagogue.  He touched a woman in the synagogue.  Tisk, tisk.
What was going on?  Why did Jesus make such a public display?  He had the power to heal the woman without even pausing in his teaching.  No one would have known the woman could now walk upright because of Jesus.
Which is the point; the people needed to know that Jesus had that power.  Psalms reads, “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness.”  In Jeremiah, a pre-Messiah, God says, “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  The author of Hebrews writes of God saying, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” The Messiah is the power of God on earth to heal and fulfill.  The Messiah can take a bent, unfruitful fig tree and nourish it until it is as good as new.  He can un-bend a woman and give her new life.  He can untie her and lead her to living water.
The word “set free” in the NIV literally means “untie” which is instructive in verse 15 where the animals are untied to be watered. Two more notes about the healing.  Even the synagogue ruler believed that Jesus could heal the woman.  He simply wanted him to do it tomorrow, and not in his synagogue, thank you.  Which brings us to the last point I will make here; nothing is said about faith.  Many of the healing accounts have Jesus mentioning that faith healed the person, but not here.
Why?  I think the woman’s response tells us.  The woman already understood what had happened.  She praised God.  Not Jesus.  Healing comes from God as she knew.  We Christians sometimes forget God in our passion for Jesus.  Jesus never did.  He always gave God the credit, even when he hinted at or accepted the possibility that he might be God or the Son of God.  God is the source of all, period.
Be righteous and do good.
Mike Lawrence