Tag Archives: Jesus

Selfish or Selfless?

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

 

Appearing in the September 12, 2017, issue of Fast Company, an online magazine, was an article called Brené Brown: America’s Crisis of Disconnection Runs Deeper Than Politics. The article is based on Brown’s book: Braving the Wilderness.

The general concept of the article is that Americans have moved in the past seventy years into increasingly uniform neighborhoods where we all think alike on most issues. But, surprisingly, this has caused us to become lonelier than when we lived with people of differing religions, politics, languages, morals, etc.

He goes on to write:  if we’ve hunkered down, ideologically and geographically, with those we perceive to be just like us, doesn’t that mean we’ve surrounded ourselves with friends and people with whom we feel deeply connected? Shouldn’t “you’re either with us or against us” have led to closer ties among the like-minded?

In fact, the opposite is happening. At the same time that cultural and political sorting is on the rise, so is loneliness.

For Christians, our goal is to hang out with people who believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. All others should move down the road.

Reading today’s scripture in Ezekiel seems to support that attitude. The one who sins will be the one who diesNIV

But Jesus said, The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of youNIV Why? Because they were like the first son who said no to his father, but later did what was asked of him.

Christians are children of God, but so are the worst sinners, including those who don’t believe in God. Does God want us to live separated from sinners? Or does he want we sinners who have repented to live with those sinners who need repentance?

As Paul put it: Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the othersNIV

In the early Third Century, Marius Victorinus wrote: We are truly acting for ourselves if we also have a concern for others and strive to be of benefit to them. For since we are all one body, we look out for ourselves when we look out for othersACCS

Too often we Christians assume that means we only watch out for our fellow Christians, forgetting that we too are sinners.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Feeding the Dogs

Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

 

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” ESV What was Jesus thinking? He is supposed to be the essence of compassion. Was he just having a bad day?

Notice first that Jesus has led his band out of Galilee and into Phoenicia. Jesus could not have been surprised to be approached by a Canaanite woman; he was in their territory.

At first, he ignored her, possibly to see how serious she would be, but more likely to build up the teaching moment. The disciples became agitated with her, but Jesus did not. He simply pointed out that his mission was to Jews. Notice too that he made that statement to the disciples, not to the woman.

In any case, the woman finally came close to Jesus and asked him face to face for help. It was then that he uttered the contentious words above.

Jesus was not trying to cut her off or denigrate her. Yes, Jews considered all gentiles to be no better than dogs, thus the reference. But Jesus was still making the point that if he were just another Jewish man, he would refuse to help her because she was gentile, not to mention female. He needs to see how she would react.

Jesus got the answer he wanted. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. ESV She proved her faith, willingly accepting the insult because she recognized Jesus as her master, and as the one who could save her daughter.

The message from Isaiah assures us that Jesus the Messiah knew and accepted the message that gentiles would come to God’s house in swarms and that God intended that all along. My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. NIV

See my comments on these NT readings from August 17, 2014, here.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

 

 

Who Is It You Are Looking For?

 

    

Easter

Jeremiah 31:1-6

Colossians 3:1-4

John 20:1-18

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Humans are searchers. From birth, we want to know what is out there. At first, it is trying to figure out what those moving blobs are that sometimes pick us up and sometimes feed us. We move on to other things that wander into our ever-sharpening vision, always seeking to know, and understand. Each year our universe expands until we see stars that existed millions of years ago.

Even then we search.

It is all good. We are better for understanding how the world and the universe works. But we also need God. Many of us are searching for God in all the wrong places; we do not even realize that it is God we seek.

In the Gospel reading, we see Mary standing at the empty tomb, weeping tears of sadness. She was thinking, ‘he died, now he is missing.’ Mary was looking in the wrong place. More to the point, she did not know what she was looking for.

Of course, if you go back to the start of the chapter, Peter and (likely) John were also clueless. They went away.

But Mary stayed, at least to be close to where Jesus had last been seen.

It was then that a stranger spoke to her. She was looking directly at Jesus, but did not recognize him. He was not the same Jesus she had walked and talked with. “Who is it you are looking for?” NIV

That is the question for us. Who am I looking for? Will I know him when I see him?

Jeremiah tells us that God said, I love you with an everlasting love;
this is why in my grace I draw you to me
CJB In the end, God finds us.

Jesus simply said, “Mary,” and she recognized him. Jesus found her.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

1 Corinthians 2-6

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I will be using the work of Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, for much of this study on the letter to Corinth

Monday, June 9, Chapter 2

Paul has to make a point with the Greeks especially, but also with the Romans and to some extent the Jews and others.  The Greeks loved philosophies and philosophical speakers.  They loved a good, hard-nosed debate in the classical logical style.  Philosophers were the rock stars of Greece.  Paul wanted the Corinthians to understood that he stayed away from that kind of speaking when he was with him.  He wanted them to see the simplicity of the Cross of Christ.

He had just arrived from Athens where he was invited to speak on Mars Hill, the center of the intellectual world in the Empire.  He gave an impressive speech that juggled the logical Greek with the story style of Jews.  He successfully bridged two worlds.  He did not found a church that day in Athens, but the city was ready and became the home of today’s Orthodox Church.

Paul walked from there to the city of slaves and sailors and assured them he would not use the ivory tower language of Athens with them, only the language of the Cross.

Notice the pattern in verses 7-10.  In 7, God’s Wisdom is hidden, but in 10, it is revealed by the Spirit.  In the second half of 7, God destined His Wisdom for us and in the second half of 9 He prepared it for us.  In both 8 and 9, it is not understood by the people.  They would not have crucified the Lord of glory, is of the Cross, right in the center of these matching statements.  This is a pattern Paul uses throughout his letters.

In verse 11, Paul says we cannot know the thoughts of God.  Only the Holy Spirit can know those thoughts.  If we allow the Spirit to dwell in us, the Spirit will share that knowledge.  Verse 13 is the central statement that we share that knowledge of God with others who do not have the Spirit.

Paul is talking about the three parts of man and the three parts of God.  Humans are body, thoughts, and soul; or physical, mental, and spiritual.  We control all three, but in doing that, we are unable to communicate with God.  Only when we allow the Holy Spirit to replace our personal spirits can we know God.

Tuesday, June 10, Chapter 3

Go back and look at verse 1:4 where Paul is thankful for the gifts given.  Now, in 3:1-3 Paul is saying that they failed to take in the gifts.  The divisions and infighting are sure signs that the Holy Spirit has not taken over the worldly spirits.

Had they been filled with the spirit they would be showing love to one another, not jealousy.  Let me quote from Kenneth E. Bailey.  As children of the Enlightenment we have largely come to see the acquiring of truth as a head trip, and that a good mind and a willingness to work hard is all that is required to understand any form of truth, including theological truth.  Paul disagrees.  He was not willing to feed the Corinthians the “solid food” of theology because of broken relationships in their community….

The ancient Eastern churches did not have scholars or theologians, but rather “Fathers of the church.”  The assumption behind that language is:  Only when we see the authenticity of your piety, and your commitment to the church, will we take your scholarship seriously.

Read Isaiah 28:9 and apply it to Paul as a father feeding the Corinthians milk.

Paul tells them it does not matter who plants the seed, it comes from God.  He uses images that come from Isaiah 41:19; 44:3-4; 60:20; and 61:3.  You Corinthians need to grow and fill out the image of that which was planted within you.

Paul calls himself a diakonos, a minister/servant.  He uses the same term for Apollos, Phoebe, and Timothy.  He has no ownership of the people or the church, he is their servant.

In verse 5, Paul uses the image of farming and the farm, changing in verse 9 to buildings.  What we add to the foundation will be shown on the day of Christ’s return, be it gold or straw (verse 13).

Verses 16-17 make up the central thought of this section.  We, you and I, are the Third Temple.  God dwells within us.

Theodore of Mopsuestia (410 AD) writes:  The one who believes in Christ receives the Holy Spirit, who dwells in him by the washing of rebirth, and thus he is spiritual.  But if such people then turn around and serve worldly passions, in that respect they are carnal.  Paul says that those who have become spiritual according to their confession of faith may nevertheless still live as though they were carnal so as to become an insult to the Holy Spirit who dwells in them.

Ambrosiaster adds (370 AD):  Paul says this in order to prick the consciences of those who have corrupted their bodies through evil living, especially the man who was having an affair with his father’s wife.

Paul ends the chapter and begins the next with one parallelism.  It was the style of much of the Old and New Testaments.  Jesus used parallelism in his parables and Paul uses it throughout his letters.  This particular one is called an inverted parallelism because the lines that match one another end up looking like the March Madness bracket

 

A  18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this            age,he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.  19 For the wisdom of this          world is foolishness in God’s sight.

 

B  As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord                       knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”  21 So then, no more boasting about               men!

 

C  All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or                           death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and                             Christ is of God.

 

D1  4:1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those                                              entrusted with the secret things of God.  2 Now it is required that those                                            who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

 

D2  3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I                                          do not even judge myself.  4 My conscience is clear, but that does not                                                make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

 

D3  5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord                                           comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose                                           the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise                                               from God.

 

C’  6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your                                   benefit,

 

B’  so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what                   is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.

 

A’  7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not               receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

 

Notice how A’ is a part of A or built on A.  That is parallelism.  The center three statements are of equal value, matching ideas rather than a building of ideas.  In parables, the center is often the central point, even the climax of the story.  With Paul in this letter, it is the Cross several times.

Wednesday, June 11, Chapter 4

Paul’s whole argument for the Corinthians is that they assumed only Paul knew the truth, or only Apollos, just as we often believe that only Baptists or Methodists or Lutherans or Catholics have the truth.  Either we belong to Paul or to God, not both.

Starting in verse 8, Paul cranks out the sarcasm.  It is a small parallelism with 8 and 10 matching and 9 the center.  It is all sarcasm.

Yet the center contains an image of Christ.  When a Roman general returned to Rome from a successful battle, the parade would always end with the captives in chains who would then be executed for the public’s enjoyment.  That is what Paul is referring to, and it is what happened to Jesus, marched through the streets to a public execution.

Paul reminds us, backhandedly, that we should suffer with God.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in a letter from prison:  Christians stand by God in God’s suffering, and that distinguishes Christians from Pagans.  Could you not keep awake with me one hour? Jesus asks in Gethsemane.  This is the reversal of everything a religious person expects from God.  Human beings are called to suffer with God’s own suffering caused by the godless world.

In Philippians 3:10, expresses the idea more strongly.

In verses 11-13, Paul speaks of the Apostles as traveling preachers in the language of Isaiah 58:7.  And then in verse 16 he says to imitate him.  Imitate the way he follows Christ.  Imitate his willingness to suffer for Christ, even to die for him.

Verse 17 actually begins the new essay, this on sexual immorality.  He tells them he is sending Timothy, and they would understand that Timothy carried a stick and a carrot.  They could choose which it would be.  Timothy is to lead them back into the way that Paul first taught them.

But he also tells them he is coming soon to deal with the arrogant people and he will bring the whip.  Take care of the problem now, before I get there.  That is a threat and a promise.

Thursday, June 12, Chapter 5

Given the nature of the City of Corinth, it should surprise no one that sexual immorality was so common, even in the church.  This chapter will give us a description of the problems they faced and chapters 6-7 will get into some solutions.

Paul opens verse 1 with a strong statement: Everyone is reporting to me.  The Old Testament penalty for immorality is stoning.  It is one of the BIG sins and Paul wants it taken care of NOW!

People in the church were saying, I am saved, so I am free.  If I am free, then nothing I do is a sin.

Paul has heard that a man is having sex with his father’s wife.  Even Paul cannot come up with strong enough words to express his disbelief at this action.  AND the man is proud.  No wonder Paul called some arrogant.

In verses 3-5, Paul is saying the man must be excommunicated, kicked out of the church.  He is not a follower of Christ.  Perhaps living with the Devil again will remind him he needs to repent.

In verse 9, Paul mentions a letter already sent to the church.  That letter has been lost.  There seems also to have been a letter written between what we call the first and second letters.  This church was so troubled that Paul sent a stream of letters to help them.  We should also note that church leaders of the late first century and early second century wrote letters to struggling churches and many of them are preserved, but not considered scripture.

Paul does not tell us to avoid non-Christians; that would go against the Great Commission.  Rather, we are to avoid people within the church who are arrogantly sinning.

Friday, June 13, Chapter 6

Remember that Paul had an unfortunate experience with the court system while he was in Corinth, even though he was released.  It may be because Sosthenes is co-author that Paul is so upset that people in the church are going to court to resolve disagreements.  Instead of acting in a considerate, loving relationship, these people are acting like street thugs.

In verses 7-8, Paul tells them to throw in the towel, it is over for them.  Salvation will not be theirs because they take pride in their sins.  Verse 9 leaves no wiggle room.  And that is what you are.

Verse 12 is a powerful statement for the Corinthians, and for us; not everything is beneficial.  Sometimes Americans forget that freedom cannot be absolute.  I should not do anything that harms another person or anything that harms me.  I cannot harm the body of Jesus, for that is what I am.  I belong to my Master.  WWJD?

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

You Have Not Seen Him

 

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Acts 2:14a,22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31
Psalm 16

Excerpts of sermon one, The Hands of God by Peter Marshall based on John 20:27.  Dr. Marshall was pastor of the Washington DC New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and Chaplain to the US Senate until his early death in 1947.  I have retained his printed style.

When Thomas returned to join the group, he heard the announcement told breathlessly

with shining eyes

as they gripped him by the arm

that the Master had appeared unto them, and that they knew—beyond any doubt—that He was alive.  Partly because of his overwhelming grief, and partly because he was by nature and disposition a skeptic, Thomas would not believe them.

he was, as it were, from some Palestinean Missouri

he had to be shown

he demanded proof

he insisted that he would not be swept

off his feet by any emotional reaction

he would have to be sure

and he refused to believe until the Lord

should appear before him

and until he could stick his unbelieving finger into the nailprints of the hands of the Son of God.

 

Before very long the disciples were again united in the room, and the door still being closed, and without bothering to knock, Jesus stood before them.

 

It was enough for Thomas, and it drew him to his glorious surrender: “My Lord, and my God!”

….

Here is our infinite comfort and strength—

“Behold My hands,” says Jesus.  That gives us confidence, and by this we know that the hands that today lay bricks

dig ditches

plant flowers

operate street cars

mine coal

wield shovels

hold riveting machines

use typewriters

wrap packages

wash dishes

Shall some day be occupied with the affairs of God in the New Jerusalem.

 

Excerpts of sermon two, The Joy of Ascension, preached in Berlin on Ascension Day, May 25, 1933 by Dietrich Bonhoeffer based on 1 Peter 1:7-9.  He was hanged in 1945 for his opposition to Hitler.

“Jesus, my joy”—is what we have just sung, and to be able to say that honestly, from the heart, is the meaning of a life lived with Christ.  If there is someone to whom it sounds very foreign, or who hears nothing in it but mush enthusiasm, then that person has never yet heard the gospel.  Jesus Christ was made a human being for the sake of humankind in the stable at Bethlehem—rejoice, o Christendom.  Jesus Christ became the companion of sinners and sat among tax collectors and prostitutes—rejoice, o Christendom.  Jesus Christ became a convicted criminal for the sake of convicts, on the cross at Golgotha—rejoice, o Christendom.  Jesus Christ, for the sake of his church, went from this earthly home to his heavenly kingdom—rejoice, o Christendom….  Say it out loud: Christ, my joy….

But how can people rejoice when they have been abandoned?  How can those who are left orphans be comforted?  How can those who are torn by homesickness be cheerful?  You orphaned church, left alone in your homesickness for Jesus Christ and his ascension, your ascension, rejoice!  For we are allowed to love him whom you cannot see; you are allowed to believe in him who is lost to your sight.  And nobody can take your love and your faith from you…. Without rejoicing, there is no church.  Let us talk today about joy in Christ….

Joy in the sermon—how hard that is for us people of today.  That’s because we are listening to the preacher and not to Christ.  We turn our own joy sour because we confuse earthly joy with heavenly joy.  Our poor Protestant church doesn’t offer us much earthly joy.  Don’t come looking for it here.  But heavenly joy Christ can give us, even through his frail church, and we should look for it only from him, not from the preacher.  In the sermon it is Christ who wants to visit us and wants to b himself our heavenly joy.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence