February 7th, 2016
It is common to read the Bible in small sections, ignoring the larger context. One place that happens is in 1 Corinthians 3. The context of chapter 3 includes chapter 2 where Paul explains that authentic spiritual wisdom is available to spiritual people who think in spiritual ways and can apply spiritual truths to real life settings.
To explain the problem in Corinth, in chapter 3 Paul uses two similar adjectives. There is only a slight difference. The words are sarkinos and sarkikos. The root of both words is sarx (literally, flesh); they are different only in the suffix, the last four letters. The “inos” suffix points to the material of composition, “made of….” The “ikos” suffix points to characteristics, thus “characterized by, influenced by, or controlled by….”
Can you see Paul’s point? He would like to write to those who are characterized by spiritual realities (pneumatikos, 3:1, reflecting chapter 2). He cannot; he has to write to those who are very much like every other human being, composed of flesh (sarkinos, NET uses the phrase, “people of the flesh.”) He calls them babies in Christ.
They are not only “people of the flesh” (v. 1, sarkinos) they are still influenced or characterized by the flesh and fleshly concerns (v. 3, sarkikos). The evidence Paul cites is their jealousy and dissension. They are acting like mere human beings—-both by nature, and in their thinking.
A picture of the contemporary church! When we begin the faith journey, we face two challenges. One, our nature is transformed so that we become participants in the divine nature. Two, how we think and the things we value changes, so we are influenced and characterized by the spirit and not the flesh, described in chapter 2 as spiritual people discerning spiritual things.
Too many Christians are trying to live using only one or the other of these two powers. We cannot stop being humans and living in this world. (The New Testament never describes Christians as pneumatinos, made up or composed of spirit). Nevertheless, we have two natures—-human and image of God. As Christians, w are given a new nature and become participants in the divine nature. When we walk by the Spirit we do not fulfill fleshly desires (Gal. 5). We have a new outlook (Rom. 8) and live according to spiritual influences and values.
Christianity is not only how you act. Christianity is how you think! Some do reasonably well with actions but keep on thinking like the world. This method will eventually fail! When we bring every thought into control (2 Cor. 10), when we are influenced and characterized and controlled by spiritual realities, our actions follow. Our challenge is to grow until our spiritual nature supersedes our physical, fleshly nature. Our challenge is to be led by, characterized, influenced, and controlled by the Spirit. That is how one stops thinking like the world!
February 2nd, 2016
Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 94. She went to be with the Lord a little over 20 years ago, but she is present in my heart and mind rather than physically.
I still try to live my life in a way that would make her proud. She was and is my heroine. She would be amazed, but perhaps not surprised, at the opportunities God has afforded her son. Her faith, lived out in my life, has taken me around the world to places we never dreamed or imagined, always to the glory of God.
Today I remember my mother, her influence, her strength, her faith, and her love in the words of Paul to the Ephesians: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (3:20-21).
January 31st, 2016
A long time ago in another millennium, I read a book that changed the way I have looked at life across almost five decades. The book is The Compulsive Christian by David Mason, first edition 1969.
Our society tends to measure life by what we have or by what we do. Mason reminds that God’s standard is being, not having or doing.
Further, each of these three verbal concepts has a past, present, and future. Nine possibilities! One can measure life by what one had, has, or will have. One can measure life by what one did, does, or will do. One can measure life by what one was, is, or is becoming.
I think about these options, and it is clear that God is most interested in what we are becoming. May I today be transformed to resemble him more closely, bringing him more glory, participating more fully in his purpose and will.
January 24th, 2016
This brief effort of four posts is insufficient. One cannot describe God in four lessons, by focusing on four descriptive words, or by sharing four primary concepts. This is skimming the surface, this is only a beginning. Nonetheless important, because one has to find the beginning point, one has to start somewhere.
Genesis. Creating God, revealing himself as powerful, personal, desiring to bless his creation in the separation of broken relationship, committing himself in covenant and promise. Creating God, promising to bless, providing, sustaining, rescuing. Holy God, separate from his creation yet present. Even with his desire to penetrate, participate in, and resolve (re-create) the human condition, we would likely understand this God as remote and distant were it not for the rest of the story–the repeated phrase, “God was with him.” This truth is boldly visible in the Joseph narrative; it continues in the Exodus, throughout the Old Testament, and becomes remarkably clearer in the birth of Emmanuel, God with us!
What’s the point? What are we to see? God’s power, promise, provision and protection, plan and purpose? That God’s power extends in the world beyond his chosen people? All of the above and more, beginning to be studied and expanded. God reveals himself as ever-present in Joseph’s life–in both trials and victories. We might say in good times and bad times; through thick and thin; through ups and downs.
So much for a God remote, distant, and limited to the past. Can we believe that this is our God, still sovereign today? This personal, promising, providing, present God is here in the 21st century? Exactly the point!
January 17th, 2016
Who is this God to whom we are introduced in Genesis? Personal God creates for relationship; he calls (unique to Christianity–God seeking his creation); he promises blessings that will restore relationship and recreate and reconstruct a fallen world; he constantly provides for his creation, especially those he chooses and blesses toward fulfilling his purpose.
How can we wrap our minds around this God who seeks to reveal himself in narrative history? Relational, defining good and evil; totally separated from evil/sin, so committed to blessing that he commits himself in promise and confirms the promise with an oath; constantly reclaiming and recreating.
This week: #3—God provides. The place where he provides a sacrifice is called Jehovah-Jireh (God will provide, Gen. 22). This is our God. What do you need? He provides. He does not need your help. He provides in Sarah’s barrenness; he provides a sacrifice, he provides wells and water, he provides a wife for Isaac, he provides children in Rebekah’s barrenness, he blesses Abraham richly, likewise Isaac, likewise Jacob. Read Genesis 26-36 (or the larger context of 12-36) through the lens of provision. Make notes, think, pray.
What do you see? What kind of God is this? Is anything beyond him? Is anything too hard for him? With willing participants, can he not accomplish his purpose? (If those he calls do not work with him toward his purpose, he will use others–even pagans and unbelievers, but that is a lesson for another part of this story of God revealing himself.)
January 10th, 2016
God’s great desire in the book of Genesis is to bless his human creation. (Check this out in a concordance, 51 times not all in reference to God.) Much of the second part of Genesis (chap. 12-25) reveals this God of promises who wants to bless his creation. Thus, God promises that Abraham will be blessed and will bless others. God’s word/promise is secure (Num 23:19). The certainty of God’s promise is based on his nature. He further secures the promise to Abraham with an oath (see Heb 6:13-18).
A couple of things catch my attention. First, how will the promise be fulfilled? Does God need help? Abraham spends a lot of time trying to help God, I mean that Abraham is continually jumping ahead of God—-in Egypt (can God not protect?); separating from Lot (can God not provide what is needed?), Eliezer and Ishmael (can God not provide the means to fulfill his promise?). The promise is fulfilled in Isaac, the son of promise.
Second, the promising God always calls, guides, protects, and provides. Abraham’s faith is tested. Testing faith is not unlike testing one’s concept of God! The promise does not depend on Abraham’s actions; Abraham is not exempt from sin (lying to Abimelech) or doubt. God continues his commitment to Abraham, even in Abraham’s failures and weaknesses. A well-known text is that Abraham believes God and it is counted as righteousness (15:6). The blessing also comes because Abraham obeys (22:18). But above all the promise depends on God and who God is. God is revealing himself through the promise. He shows his nature, his eternal intent, his presence and power. This promising God will intervene again and again. A sacrifice is provided when Abraham would have sacrificed Isaac (Gen. 22), God provides a wife for Isaac and children in Rachel’s barrenness.
This is the revelation of the personal God who desires to penetrate and interact in the context of the human experience. What does this mean for you and me? First, can we see our faithful God? Faithful even when we are not? Renewing us, reclaiming us? The creating, calling God is not only a Genesis 3 reality. He is ever-present, calling, claiming, re-creating. He guides us; protecting and providing for us. Second, this God calls us to be involved in fulfilling his promise in the world. What we do—-our version of religion, our version of church—-must not depend on what we see, what we want, what we decide are open doors. We do not have to guess about what God is trying to do in this world. We can confidently make plans consistent with God’s eternal purpose and he will use those efforts to his glory. Finally, that God makes promises with the intent to bless suggests for us a new way of living life—-living out a “blessing strategy” in our relationships with others, going through life with the intent to bless all we meet.
January 3rd, 2016
[Note: Please bear with me as I struggle through difficult ideas–it is not easy to wrap our little minds around God!]
Last week I tried to introduce the God of Genesis. Point #1–God is personal/relational. God creates human beings in his image. That concept includes capable of relationship–with God and with one another. God is powerfully transcendent yet present. God calls his human creation back to him and he will provide the means for re-creation and reestablishment of broken relationship. It is not easy to sift out the many aspects of God that are revealed in the several “sin stories” that introduce the biblical story–Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, humanity in general, Noah, the Tower of Babel.
Even more difficult is discerning what the applications are. If the powerful, creating God is such, what are the implications for how I live life? How do I live with such a God? What does God’s nature demand? How do I give honor to such realities? I must rethink priorities, commitments, the things I do in the name of promoting spiritual presence and God-response.
A few “lessons” from Gen 1-11: How obedient and committed am I? Do I ever seek to define right and wrong on my own terms? Might God reject my offerings and worship? Am I vengeful? Is my life a glory or a shame to God (a different question than mere sin-avoidance)? Am I building monuments to myself, even without knowing it? Am I an instrument to the re-creation of vertical relationship or do I mostly dabble in the mundane cares of living in this fallen world?
God defines spirituality and worship (and eventually Christianity) based on his nature. I seek continual relationship with the God who is ever beyond me, thus is potentially present only because of who he is, not because of who I am or what I do. May I never think otherwise. We must never succumb to the temptation (of Satan) to define what God wants according to our own preferences or opportunities. Choosing the good can keep us from choosing the best (Phil 1). Growth in knowledge and grace is the ultimate admonition in a book that begins with a challenge to share the divine nature (2 Peter). May I learn both and reflect them ever more clearly in my life!!