Corinth and Us

 

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When I look at the challenges of fellowship and community in the body of Christ, in the local church, few books in the Bible can match Paul’s letters to the people of Corinth.

 

Paul had visited Corinth around 50 AD. He had begun the church on his second missionary journey. It was there that he met Aquila and Priscilla, Jewish tentmakers like he was. He spent two years there preaching first to the Jews in the synagogue. When they refused to hear him, he preached to the Gentiles.

 

When he arrived there, Corinth was already an ancient city that had been in existence for a thousand years before the time of Christ. It was a wealthy seaport city, a center of art, athletics, business, and religion. Unfortunately, it had developed a bad reputation as an immoral city.

 

How like God to send His light into a dark place?

 

Paul sent others to minister to the church he established there after he continued his missionary journey to Jerusalem for a brief stop and then on to Ephesus for three years. He kept in contact with the churches he established by letter and letters came to him updating him on the church and how things were going as well. He desired to continue to disciple them and grow them up in all spiritual matters.

 

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By the time he wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth, it’s clear issues were blossoming and the church was not behaving as a Christ like church. The worldly wisdom of the day had been creeping into the church creating confusion and division.

 

Sound familiar even in 2016 in many places? We seem to have some common characteristics with the city of Corinth and the church there.

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Paul’s words as a loving disciple are firm and direct calling them into account out of his love and care for them and his desire to see them mature. He let them know they were acting like babies. They could not be equipped to reach out to others, to look different than the world in Corinth. The church was to model Jesus. The church at Corinth wasn’t doing that.

 

We are blessed to have many strong, effective, loving churches in our country, but not unlike the church in Corinth our success and culture can slip into the church almost unnoticed until the fruit of its presence becomes evident.

 

In The Master’s Indwelling, Andrew Murray writes this about the believers in Corinth:

“We find in the Corinthians simply a condition of protracted infancy. It is quite right at six months of age a babe should eat nothing but milk, but years have passed by and it remains in the same weakly state. Now this is just the condition of many believers. We come in contact with them and there is none of the beauty of holiness or of the power of God’s spirit in them.”

 

 I think we sometimes bump into the same issue today. Protracted infancy will not let us reflect Him.

 

Can these things harm the image of Christ? Absolutely! Can they prevent healthy relational fellowship? Yes, of course.

 

Sometimes the church today (not unlike Corinth) can have a solid foundation with excellent teaching, but if we only rely on being fed on Sundays we will never grow up into Him and become mature. It is what happens on those other six days that make the big difference in whether or not we are truly growing.

 

Our churches bear a great responsibility before the Lord for the oversight and care of their body, but that is His to judge. We also have a responsibility. How we spend our time in pursuing the Lord beyond the teaching of the pastor will tell a great deal about the way we model Him. It will have a significant influence on whether we move beyond protracted infancy.

 

We come into a church looking for certain things. What do we also bring? Do we bring childish self-centered attitudes or a growing, developing Christ-life?

 

Perhaps what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 16:13 lays out the path for us:

 

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

 

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A Hard Part of Fellowship

 

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One of the things most of us hope for when we are part of a church body is the sense of community, of belonging, or of being in fellowship one with another.

 

When I am speaking of fellowship, I am not really speaking of getting together over food and fun even though that may often happen. I am speaking more about a community bound together in mutual support, companionship, and friendship stemming from shared values and beliefs.

 

Because life on this earth is messy, experiencing this type of fellowship can often include some ruts or rocks along the way since we all continue to bear the taint of our sin natures even though redeemed. I think we all can struggle with that from time to time, or one degree to another.

 

What makes this fellowship and community so difficult?

 

I am sure we can all come up with lists or have some opinions about it, but as I have been reading in my time with the Lord today I think He points us back to the “big rock” principle He lays down for us.

 

How do I love my brother or sister, my neighbor?

 

At the outset, I think none of us do this as well as we would like or might even pride ourselves on doing. I certainly don’t! Yet, over and over again from Old Testament to New Testament each of us is called to do so.

 

One place I bumped into it today was in Leviticus 19:17:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor lest you incur sin because of him.”

 

I can quickly say that I don’t hate someone, but as I delve more deeply into the principles under the verse I discover it includes a responsibility to God to respect my brother or sister. That adds a dimension I may not first think about when reading a verse such as this.

 

Respecting someone means having a feeling of deep admiration for someone, holding that person in regard or esteem, acting with deference toward or in civility with the person. This sounds a lot like godly love to me.

 

That fits with the two commandments upon which everything else depends of first loving God and then loving our neighbor. We all “know” that. Loving God first is what bends our hearts toward loving our neighbor. Only when we do the first can we hope to attempt the second since it is a reflex to the reality of loving God.

 

I feel like it can be easy to get stuck because even when we seek to put self to death, it keeps sticking its head up out of the ground over and over again. That keeps me from loving my brother or sister very well, but what I might fail to recognize is that I might not love God or be in rich fellowship with Him. If that has slipped, then I will mess up in loving anyone else because it will invariably be about me in some way or another.

 

I think these are some of the sticking points that are a hard part of fellowship, but there is something else. When things get messy for whatever reason and our hearts cause our actions and motives to be less than loving, too often someone does not come alongside us in respect and love to help us recognize what is hindering fellowship with God or others.

 

That requires a lot more from us. It is easier to be judgmental, to cut off the person, to confront without love, or to become bitter. Because that is the case and this community of believers may have more than just one or two of us in the midst of this sort of challenge, fellowship is hard.

 

We will hurt each other. That’s a given even though it is generally not intentional. Prayerfully, we will seek to forgive in the midst of our own hurt or pain.

 

We demonstrate how well we love when we bump into Ephesians 4:15:

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”

 

Most of us know that verse, but living it out is another story. Think about it. It means I speak the truth versus my opinion or perspective. I share my honest feeling as a feeling, but not as a fact. It also means I share whatever I am sharing in love while not diminishing the issue.

 

It is also how I help myself and others grow up in Him and in maturity by being open to them when they (out of love) seek to help me not fail or do poorly. It also means I face my fear and gain courage to speak to them in that way, not from a one up position but from an equally level position.

 

We need more lessons and practice in loving no matter what our age or season of life, no matter what our position or gender.

 

If we submit to Him and allow His love to permeate our own hearts, I think fellowship will become less difficult and the community will look more like Him.

 

I love what C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity:

 “God can show Himself as He really is only to real men. And that means not simply to men who are individually good, but to men who are united in a body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another. For that is what God meant humanity to be like; like players in one band, or organs in one body. Consequently, the one really adequate instrument for learning about God, is the whole Christian community, waiting on Him together.”

 

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Choose What Leads to Life

 

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Old habits die hard they say.

 

One of those is what we understand about guilt. Before we come to know the Lord, unless our conscience is seared we experience what we call guilt and its lingering shadows. Those shadows touch more parts of us than we often recognize.

 

What we understand about guilt after we invite Jesus into our lives depends on what we are taught to think and feel about guilt. Sadly, sometimes when we are growing up we hear messages suggesting we should feel guilty when we have made a mistake. As a result, even after we are believers we can still label what we feel as guilt when we make a mistake or fall prey to sin.

 

Sometimes the problem of guilt seems less common today than it once was perhaps. The new independent individualism typical of our current culture tends to result in justification for mistakes or sinful choices. It is commonplace to hear statements like “that’s just the way I am” or “that’s the way God made me”. We easily deflect responsibility and blame. We also tend to shift blame to others.

 

It is rare to hear someone accept personal responsibility for his or her choices and decisions.

 

I see that as I look at my own life and how little I understood about this issue of guilt as a result of a lack of discipleship when I first came to know Jesus.

 

I also saw and heard it for many years in my counseling practice. People were locked up by guilt for things past and present. I still hear it now as I overhear conversations.

 

The effects of unhealthy guilt in our lives have tentacles that wrap around several areas of our life. The first and easiest to spot is hostility and defensive reactions in which someone else is blamed for the issue or problem.

 

A second group of effects include self-condemnation reactions such as insecurity, anxiety, an inability to relax, the refusal to receive compliments, a pessimistic outlook, and a feeling of inferiority.

 

These first two can lead to social reactions that can cause us to isolate and alienate ourselves from others. Ultimately all of these can produce physical symptoms as a result of the stress we experience from the unrelieved habit of guilt.

 

Guilt leads to death within us.

 

Here is the good news!

 

If we learn to differentiate between unhealthy guilt and godly conviction, we can be set free from the confusion these can cause.

 

What does unhealthy guilt look like?

 

  • It causes confession about how bad we are and usually the confession is compulsive, impulsive and repeated.

 

  • It deals with laws and rules, the should and should not’s.

 

  • It refuses to yield to forgiveness.

 

  • The primary focus is on self and the past.

 

  • The motivation for change is to avoid feeling bad.

 

  • Our attitude toward ourselves is frustration.

 

By contrast, let me give examples of godly conviction:

 

  • Confession that is concerned with the act itself of sin or mistake rather than how rotten I am.

 

  • Godly conviction deals with relationships (God, self, and others).

 

  • Godly conviction always yields to forgiveness.

 

  • The primary focus is God or others and damage to others and a desire to correct future deeds.

 

  • The motivation for change is to help others, to do God’s will and experience feelings of love.

 

  • Our attitude toward ourselves includes love, respect, and concern.

 

Godly conviction leads to life!

 

The good news, the gospel, tells us in Luke 4 in the words of Jesus quoting out of Isaiah 61 that He came to set the captives free, to bring pardon, to bring life.

 

When you are tempted to get mired in guilt, remember that guilt leads to death. Because Jesus came to bring life and IS life, guilt would not be coming from Him. His enemy who condemns us and brings death still likes to masquerade and confuse us on this topic.

 

When Jesus sees us caught in a sin or ensnared in a habit that can destroy us, He brings godly conviction (not condemnation). That brings life. It isn’t any wonder, is it?

 

Jesus is life. He came to bring us life and life more abundantly.

 

 

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Star Magnolia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Habit That Haunts Us

 

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I watched as two little boys stood back to back in the gym measuring to try to prove who was the taller of the two. Not too many feet away, two little girls were comparing the colors and number of styles of rubber band bracelets they had.

 

Is there a standard for rubber band bracelets? I thought this was supposed to simply be a fun activity. Is there really a good, better, best?

 

It seems as if we are all caught up in measuring something, someone, or ourselves.

 

It starts early in life as children. It comes down to biggest, best, or most sorts of things. It might look harmless enough, but it begins to set a grid in place, a filter, that lingers well into adulthood and causes us to continue to measure.

 

To measure means to compare, to determine a better or best, a worse or worst.

 

 I am not suggesting it is all bad. When I go to the grocery store, I hand select the apples, bananas, grapes, and other produce to assure I get the “best” of what is offered for the “best” price.

 

I confess that beyond the color or style of a chair or couch, I am asking about the “best” fabric that will stand up under wear or repel stains when I am buying a piece of furniture. I want it to last and I want my money to go as far as possible.

 

Other comparisons become more problematic. It can be easy to look at who has the newest car or house, who has the nicest office, who gets the most exotic vacations, and on and on.

 

Those sorts of comparisons provide fertile ground for jealousy, envy, and aggressive zealousness that sets aside solid values for people, practices, and principles. It divides families, friends, neighbors, and nations.

 

A great deal of energy can go into all of these pursuits, but what impact does it have on our soul?

 

Sadly, these sorts of comparisons can creep into our spiritual lives and organizations as well.

 

What impact does it have on eternity?

 

I think we really know that Jesus measures differently.

 

Jesus looks at the content of our heart, not the size of our bank account. Jesus looks at the quality of our character, not the titles or positions we hold.

 

 Jesus’s choices are a paradox to us. He chooses those that others skip over or reject. He honors small people and small things. He recognizes those who are humble and don’t speak of their achievements if they have them versus those who give Him lists of what they have done hoping to impress Him.

 

Each day I have a choice to make. What will I do with the time that has been allotted to me? The challenge for me is to put on His lenses to determine that.

 

Yesterday I had no grand plans, no appointments to keep, and no errands to run. Even as a retiree those days are not as common as you might think. Was I going to measure my day by some level of what is considered productivity? (That is always a big temptation if you have been raised with a strong work ethic as I was.)

 

The truth is there were many things I could do and perhaps should do and some of those did get tackled. I still deal with the question in my head at the end of the day that asks, “what did you accomplish today”.

 

The best thing the Lord showed me through His lenses was that it was simply a day I was available, available for His use as needed.

 

 When my schedule is full for the day, I am not so available for anything else that might come up. I can’t be on standby for anyone or anything very easily. I also cannot “bank” resources to replenish my own heart and soul that I may need later or that He might want to use later.

 

On this “standby” day I received several emails about significant prayer needs and I had time to not only pray, but also to send a handwritten note to encourage the persons. I also had time to listen to a friend without needing to interrupt her to go running off somewhere. My heart and soul were filled up with an extended quiet time and finishing a book that enriched my reflections.

 

The measure that matters is what matters to Him. That is what will impact eternity.

 

 

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Blackberry Farm, Walland, TN

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tennessee Morning

 

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Birdsong echoes through the rustle of the leaves as the hillsides awaken in unspoken praise to the One who called each one into being.

 

Late spring mornings in middle Tennessee can quickly become a sultry afternoon so a morning walk provides the backdrop for listening, reflecting, and observing. Together these provide the fertile soil for praise to join with the birdsong.

 

It can be so easy to jump into a day with the many lists that demand my attention once I have taken time to stop by my favorite red chair to have my devotions. In this life, many if not most of our days will be like that, but on some days I have dessert at the end of my devotional time.

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I call it dessert time because it comes at the end of being fed in the Word. Dessert can be skipped, but when I can choose to take just a bit more time alone to be in His creation all my senses are refreshed.

 

Recently, I had such a morning in Tennessee that allowed me to take a walk to Whistler’s Cove accompanied by the lyrics of birds unknown to me that released my thoughts and left them floating heavenward. So many different songs!

 

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How the Lord must delight in the variety of music sent heavenward to Him! When I consider His creation of so many birds to serenade Him as well as each of us if we take time to listen, I cannot help but be filled with wonder at such a God!

 

How He must rejoice when our voices soar upward no matter what the rhythm or time signature! Music surely is one of His best gifts!

 

On this walk, the scent of honeysuckle blossoms met me here and there along the path I took. How many fragrances He has created for His pleasure and ours! Even we are a fragrance to Him!

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In 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 Paul writes:

 

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

 

 

So, when I have spent time with Him, His fragrance spills out on me and as I share Him in my day in whatever way He leads, that same fragrance can extend to others.

 

How I desire that such a life-giving fragrance grace my life!

 

On such a Tennessee morning as I walk along the path taking in all the fragrance of Him, the sights of His creation, and the sounds of His music, I feel immersed in His fragrance as it washes over me.

 

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Such times of sweetness and gentleness in His presence do so much to draw me into His arms and treasure the truth that I am His child, His daughter, loved everlastingly.

 

Please, take time for dessert!

 

 

 

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”

                                             Psalm 34:8

 

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