Day 30 II Corinthians 4:1-18

For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. (v18)

How often do I need to be reminded to look beyond the surface? In conflict – always.

8 We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed …. 17 We have small troubles for a while now…

Paul’s letters are filled with counsel on how to handle conflict, and on his own responses to challenge and criticism coming from communities of Christians around the Mediterranean. There will be troubles, but they don’t really compare to the glory that is coming (the second half of v 17). And the reason we can maintain this attitude, is because of v 18 For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen.

Just as in Phillipians 4:6, he gives us the spiritual means – through a spiritual practice (applied with consistently and regularly, thus it may be called a spiritual discipline). To avoid worry, follow Paul’s instructions on prayer. To avoid being overcome by the troubles that arrise in ministry and because of our Christian walk, and to help keep them in perspective – have eyes to see that which is unseen. Don’t look just on the surface.
In a congregation undergoing transformation, just as in a new congregation in gestation, infancy or childhood, challenges will come – on the surface things will often look very discouraging. How discouraged Jesus followers were at the trial and crucifixion, and in the hours that followed before the resurrection. All for which they’d hoped and dreamed was gone – it was crushed, destroyed, and they felt forsaken and persecuted – Heck, even Jesus felt forsaken on the cross (MT 27:46) This word, forsake or forsaken, is the word used in Psalm 22, which Jesus quotes there in Mt 27. It is also in Psalm 16, which Peter qoutes in Acts 2 in his first sermon at Pentecost, where he summarized the Gospel story of Jesus to explain the demonstration of power in the gift of tongues. The Hebrew version of the word appears over 200 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.
This passage also contains several reminders that God in Christ is the message and the power for ministry, not we ourselves (esp. v 5-7). As we do see transformation of lives, families, communities and congregations coming through the work of the gospel, I am at risk of taking too much credit for those things. As I have said before, I struggle with knowing how much credit to take – I want to find a healthy balance of accepting appreciation and affirmation and not rejecting a compliment, and yet always turn ing the praise back toward Christ for His work in me. I need God’s help to do this well. And as a Barnabas Encourager, I will want to look at this working in the lives of the people whom I coach – to help them celebrate deeply and enjoy their triumphs, but always realizing that it is God who makes these things possible. This may be an important aspect of my ministry of encouragement.

Day 28 I Corinthians 12:1-31

This text is so familiar I am having trouble hearing it with fresh ears.

Just read it in Peterson’s “Message”. Heard something new in the text I had not expected. This whole business about not discarding a part of the body because it’s function is not as dramatic, visible, glorious, etc… How does that apply to different demographics within the church? How do I hear Paul as I think about senior adults, children, youth, single adults, divorcees, etc? What happens when we honor one group’s contributions more than another? What happens when we put more emphasis on serving one group, or giving one group an opportunity to serve? AT Forest Grove, where we are intergenerational, how do we continue to celebrate and honor the gifts of all? How does this text become a call for our community involvement that honors and celebrates the gifts and contributions of all? Do senior adults come to feel that their contributions are not valued? Do children or youth feel that way? Do women, or men, feel that way? How do I as the pastor lead the way in honoring and celebrating the gifts that different individuals and groups offer? How does this fit in with my ministry of encouragement? I’m terrible at being organized about my ministry to individuals, but I think there is a place in all of this for thinking more about responding to and keeping up with individuals. I wonder how I can enlist the help of a few to support this effort? As I look at our Elders, I wish to better understand their gifts, where they are in their spiritual journey, and how I can support and encourage them individually in their walk, and particularly in their ministry. I want to meet with each of them this fall and allow them time to tell me about their journey, and about what they need from me. I will need to do the same with the Ministry Council and other ministry leaders. Perhaps through this I can model and teach them to do the same for those they each lead.
12:7 Something from the Spirit can be seen in each person, for the common good… 11 One Spirit, the same Spirit, does all these things, and the Spirit decides what to give each person.
Each person has a gift, some kind of gift. And whatever gift you have is no source of pride or humility for you, because it was by God’s doing, not your own. And all the gifts have been given for the sake of the whole. What would happen in my ministry if I began asking everyone what their gifts for ministry are, and began praying with and for each person to understand and use their gifts. All the way from Maddie and Alex up to JD and Boots & Cotton. How will my ministry, and its impact, change as I change the focus of my conversations with people? As I honor and encourage them by lifting up and helping them to claim and live into their gifts for ministry. How can I do this better with folks who stir frustration in me?

Laying a Firm Foundation – Matthew 7

Sermon for Sept 2, 2007

Jesus teachings, and particularly in the sermon on the mount, are his way of helping us to lay a firm foundation for our lives in general, and for our faith in particular. As he states quite clearly, “Those who hear my teaching and live by it are wise, those who hear my teaching and ignore it are stupid.” That is pretty direct (and painful for me at times). I can see in my life, and in my ministry, when I have stupidly ignored Jesus teaching, and what has resulted – failure, brokenness, heartache, struggle, loss. Presumably, Jesus teaching is directed at churches (since Matthew wrote his gospel for the Church) and not simply to be applied in individual lives. So, how has Forest Grove lived out Jesus’ teachings, thus being like wise people laying a firm foundation against the challenges that come. Where have we been stupid, by hearing and understanding Jesus’ teachings but failing to follow them, out of fear, simple neglect, or stubborn sinfulness.

Part of what I hear Jesus saying in this chapter, even beginning with the passage about taking the log out of our own eye before offering to help someone else be free of an obstruction in theirs, part of what I hear is that we are to be regularly and fearlessly self-aware, and humbly repent when we, individually or collectively, have failed to heed Jesus’ instructions. How often do marriages, parents, children, leaders, each of us need to hear and follow this teaching so that we will be able to weather the storms of life with security and confidence. What will it mean for you to undertake this kind of work for the kingdom. Laying a foundation is difficult – are you willing to do the prep work to avoid haveing foundation problems later, or even worse, having everything you’ve built wash away down stream or out to sea?

Make no mistake – bad weather is coming. The rains will come. The winds will blow. The water will rise. Will you, will we, be ready. So much of the spiritual life is about preparation and training. Just as a few examples, Paul says: 2 Timothy 3:16 – All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (training is a process of development and maturation in preparation for challenges and tests to come). 1Ti 4:7 Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness. AND – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; 27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

We train ourselves so that when the tests come, we will be ready. For as Paul writes – 1Co 10:13 Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.
The way out is often found in the firm foundation that is built daily, even hourly, as we seek to walk with the LORD in the light of His love. The more of God is present in your life, the less room there is for the temptations of the flesh. The more of the Word of God you have written on your heart and committed to your memory, the less opportunity for the words of the world and the temper to come to you. And when they do, just as they did for Jesus in the wilderness (MT 4), you will be equipped with the very Word of God to defeat the temptations that come – because you laid a firm foundation. Proverbs 22:5 tells us to train up a child in the right way so that when they are old (and the temptations of life come to them without the defense of parents to protect them) they will be able to stay on that path of righteousness. This is the responsibility of Christian parents, and of the church where the parents can not or will not do this. AND, even as adults are young in the faith, are babes and children in Christ, they too must be trained up – though they are already in the midst of the trials and temptations, so perhaps the church can also serve as a buffer from some of those storms.

FINALLY, The church leadership in particular MUST be mature in faith, with strong foundations built on Rock, so that they will be able to stand on behalf of the church against the storms that will come against a faithful congregation seeking to fulfill Christ’s commands.

Sermons for September

2nd – Being a disciple: Laying a firm foundation –
Matthew 7

9th – Be a disciple: Get Ready for the Blessing –
Acts 1

16th – Old Wine into New Wineskins – There really is nothing new under the sun
Matthew 9; Mark 2

23rd – Seeking Deep Christian Spirituality Worship in Spirit and in Truth – John 4;

30th – Being a disciple: Are you able to see Jesus? –
Lk 24:13-43; Jn 20:11-18; Mt 25:31-46

Day 27 I Corinthians 9:16-27

“I become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (v22b)
I want to know what this means in my life. I want to hear the LORD calling me into relationship with my neighbors, with strangers, and knowing how to connect with them and honor their humanity for its own sake, and for the sake of the Kindom. This morning at the chamber of commerce networking meeting, one of the members gave a ‘thought for the day’. “If you want to really serve your customers, you have to really know them.” I was inspired and challenged by this. As an introvert (without using that as an excuse) I am challened by ‘small talk’. It is not something that comes very naturally to me. In Paul’s letter, I don’t thnk he is talking about changing his personality. Rather, he is describing a process of cultural sensitivity and accomodation (with limits). I think some of my attempts to live this way have been interpreted by others as duplicitous. I am not, like Peter was, living with openness toward irreligious folk only when the ‘righteous’ were not around, and then quickly dumping my new friends when the religious folks show up. But, I do attempt to taylor my message to my audience, which has gained me some criticism.
Another challenge this text presents is that, in the life of a congregation, we can not be ‘all things to all people’ in the sense of meeting every felt need around us. We do have to target, be specific, which is really what Paul was saying – when ministering among a particular people group, he targeted his message to their ears. This requires being a sociologist as well as a psychologist.
One last thing in this text: Self-discipline! Paul may have been one of those hyper-disciplined people anyway, or not. Either way, he is so right about the importance of self-discipline and how its lack will hinder if not destroy one’s witness. I’m not sure how to adequately repent of the consequences of my lack of self-discipline over the years – and I know myself well enough that only with God’s help will I be able to do better in the future. Proverbs regularly reminds me of the need for discipline in my life, within which I may live in freedom in Christ.