Category Archives: Corinthians

No More Excuses

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And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.  2 Cor. 8:5

I think we, as church leaders, are guilty of making excuses for our people and their occasional luke-warm commitment to kingdom activity.

I did a radio interview last year about Trusting God’s People…Again, the book I co-authored with Debbie Williams.  The interview request kind of caught me by surprise, since it had been a few years since we launched that book.  I was grateful for the opportunity to do it, because that is still very much a topic about which I am passionate (people wounded by the church).  Thanks, Shane Finch, for that fun opportunity!

It was one of the more interesting radio interviews I’ve done.  Shane asked me a few questions I was not at all ready for (I’m hoping he had the mercy not to run my answer to, “What song do you wish you had written?”–wow, how embarrassing was THAT answer!).  But one question really brought me under conviction: “What do you see the Lord doing through you in the year 2020?”  I knew what my answer SHOULD be.  It should be, “Whatever He wants to be doing through me.”  That should be how all of us answer that question, because, as Christ-followers, we should all be do totally given to Him that He is doing absolutely everything and anything He desires to do through us.

That, I believe, is what Paul meant in his letter to the Corinthians about the Macedonian believers who had given so very much out of their poverty and persecution.  They gave themselves first of all to the Lord…  I think I have a pretty fair understanding of what …

Leaders Wobble But They Don’t Fall Down

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But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Corinthians 4:7-9

weeble3Is it just me?  Does anybody else read these words from the Apostle Paul and remember those silly Weebles ads about “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” (with apologies to all my international friends who all think I have finally lost my marbles!)?  Weebles are those cute little Hasbro/Playskool toys with the weighted bottoms so that they literally cannot be knocked over.  They are a near-perfect illustration of this revolution we call Christianity.  No matter what the world tries to do to stamp it out, it just gets back up and keeps growing.

And it is that same “struck-down-but-not-destroyed” spirit which inhabits you and me as church leaders today.  That is the encouraging word here from Paul to us.  We are filled with this same indestructible spirit.  The question is, does it feel like that to you?  And if it does not, how can you recapture it?

It seems clear to me that this spirit of “indestructibility” which Paul talks about in verses 8-9 is very much tied to his “jars of clay” illustration in verse 7.  In other words, it is only when we lose sight of our position as flawed and fragile vessels that we begin to set ourselves up for destruction.  When we, as leaders, begin to believe people’s scouting reports on us as “amazing communicators” or “extraordinary people”, when we begin to see ourselves as being just a little bit better than most of those around us, when we tend to forget that …

The Measure of Your Ministry

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Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.  You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  2 Corinthians 3:1-3

I will be the first to admit I have validation issues…O.K., maybe not the first to admit it, but I do get to that admission eventually. 🙂  What other people think of me probably matters more to me than it should…words of affirmation are definitely how I feel loved (thank you, Gary Chapman).  Add to that my (mostly-healthy) competitive nature and then stir in my very American-public-school-achievement orientation, and you have a recipe for a man who is all about constantly assessing his successes versus his failures.  It is important to me.  Maybe it is important to you too.

I measure everything.  I measure my case load and my billings at work.  I measure my workouts and my sleep hours at home.  I measure my quality time spent with my wife and with my daughters (never enough).  I measure the conferences and speaking engagements I do, the writing time I have, the churches with whom I consult, and the budget dollars in my ministry.  I measure the attendance in The Gathering, and my teaching time there.  I measure my readership, my “hits”, my “click-throughs” and my subscriptions to this blog.  I am always assessing and reassessing and measuring the success and/or failure of all these endeavors.  I’ll bet you do as well.

The question is, in ministry, what does …

For Heaven’s Sake!

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Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  1 Corinthians 15:58

“So what?”  That is a question I always ask when I study the Bible.  I just need to know why the writer is telling me this…why it is important to me.  Nobody in the Bible answers that question better than Paul.  In 1 Corinthians 15, there is a fascinating discourse from Paul about the reality of resurrection.  Paul spends this longest chapter of all of the epistles laying out a brilliant apologetic for the doctrine of the resurrection, logically laying out the facts of the gospel, the hope of the faith, and the description of what is yet to come.  The perishable becomes the imperishable, the seed becomes the sprout.  Verses 1-57 beautifully spell it all out in what would be as complete a sermon as anyone would ever want on the subject of the resurrection.  It is so complete, in fact, that one could easily end the lesson there.  But I will not.  Here’s why…

More than any writer I know, Paul uses the word “therefore” to signal a very important bottom line for him.  In fact, even after a long diatribe so beautifully laying out facts and arguments such as he does in 1 Corinthians 15:1-57, you can rest assured that Paul has not yet said what he really came to say until after the “therefore”.  That is how Paul signals that he is about to answer the question, “So what?”

In this case, he goes to great lengths to address those in the Corinthian church who were not convinced there would be a resurrection for Christ’s …

Stumbling over the “Stumbling Block” Metaphor

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Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  1 Corinthians 8:9

I do not drink alcohol.  I do have plenty of friends who believe I should…and there was a time in my life when I did.  But when I got out of college and got married and began my “grown-up” life, I made the decision to not drink alcohol.  I did not make that decision out of any moralistic reasoning, or because of any misguided belief that God frowns on alcohol…I do not believe that at all.  I made that decision because, in my particular “flavor” of Christianity (the Southern Baptist church), there are still plenty of people for whom alcohol is a major “stumbling block” issue…people with whom I would lose my testimony if I did drink alcohol…so it seemed like a small price to pay to retain that ability to be a Godly influence in their lives.  Thirty years later, it still feels like a very small price to pay.

That issue (alcohol in the Baptist church) is about as close as I can come to a contemporary example of the “meat sacrificed to idols” issue Paul dealt with in the Corinthian church.  In that community, there was meat for sale in the market place at a discounted price, because it was surplus meat from pagan temples, i.e., meat intended to be sacrificed to pagan gods, but which was surplus and therefore sold into the market place for resale.  Given the Jewish history with pagan gods and all, there were plenty of “traditionalists” in the New Testament church who refused to purchase or consume that meat and who were fairly judgmental towards those who did.  These are the “weak-minded” people whom Paul is protecting when …

God’s Rule of Persistence

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 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’   “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”  Luke 18:1-5

 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”   When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD.  The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”  1 Samuel 8:19-22

 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,  hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:4-5

Persistence, it seems, is a big deal to God.  We see it throughout the Bible, over and over again…so much so, in fact, that you could call it a rule: the Rule of Persistence.  Simply put, the spiritual rule of persistence is: God’s nature is to reward persistence.  Mind you, that does not mean persistence always gets us what we want…it just means, if scripture paints an accurate picture of God, …

Spiritual Triage and Why We Don’t Get It

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It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife… So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,  hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.  1 Corinthians 5:1, 4-5

Triage:  the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors  merriam-webster

“Triage” is the term for having to make quick, hard decisions (usually medical) about which wound or patient to treat first in order to do the most good.  In the spiritual warfare we call “church”, there are casualties…and none more so than when blatant and public immorality are at issue.  That is what Paul confronted in the Corinthian church, and his counsel is both passionate and harsh.  It is about spiritual triage.

If you are being honest, you will admit that you do not like this instruction from Paul one bit.  Furthermore, if you are like me, you have twisted and contorted and struggled to find some way of interpreting and teaching this passage that somehow takes the “harsh dogma” out of it and makes it more understandable…more palatable to the mainstream Christian…more “in line” with our notions of grace and mercy.  We do this in light of Jesus’ treatment of church discipline in Matthew 18 (“treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”…remember how Jesus treated the tax collectors?) and in light of Jesus’ treatment of the adulterous woman (“Then

Breast-feeding the Church

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My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”…Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?  1 Corinthians 1:11-12; 3:1-4

The milk/solid food metaphor was apparently popular in the early church.  Paul used it.  The writer of Hebrews used it.  Peter used it.  Some metaphors just work so well, they “catch on” and make the rounds, I suppose.  It strikes me that this metaphor probably conjured up different images for the early church than it does for us today.  When we think of babies drinking milk today, we may have images of bottles or sippy cups going through our minds.  But in the days of the early church, I suspect the images were more of babies breast-feeding or perhaps of baby animals being fed by their mother.  It was the very natural process of the mother digesting the solid food for the babies and then passing it on to them through her milk.  Bottom line: being on a milk diet was the most helpless, immature form of existence.

Another interesting thing about this metaphor is that, when you or I read it in scripture, …

The Spiritual Gift of Blah, Blah, Blah

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. I Corinthians 13:1-3

You really cannot have a complete discussion about unity in the church without talking about Spiritual gifts.  They are, after all, an essential piece to the puzzle.  The Spirit of God Himself, manifesting Himself through the believer, is a huge promise from Him…a promise upon which unity rests.  Without the Spirit of God working in and through us, there would be no hope for unity because there is no other provision for unity other than the Spirit.  How He chooses to manifest Himself, then, through believers (i.e., what we call Spiritual gifts) is a critical cog in the machinery of the church.

Paul begins his discussion of Spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12 with these words: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” He then teaches the concept of Spiritual gifts wonderfully, including the whole metaphor of the church as a body.  But then at the end of that chapter, he segues from that discussion with these words: “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” In other words, now he is going to paint a picture of how it all looks in a very practical, understandable way.  And with that …

Coloring God…

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. I Corinthians 12:7

When I was in elementary school it was kind of a big deal how big your box of crayons was.  They had little boxes of 8, bigger boxes of 24, large boxes of 48 and then they had the super duper extra large box of 64.  That last one was the one you wanted.  It was important.  You just never knew when you might need those odd colors like goldenrod or periwinkle.  You wanted options.  You didn’t want to find yourself limited to just a few simple colors, especially if you had a project that demanded a broader spectrum.  You didn’t just want “red”.  You wanted every imaginable shade and phase of red.  It was frustrating trying to color pictures with a few colors when an entire palette of colors was required in order to get it right.

In that same vein, I’ve always been troubled by interpretations of “Spiritual gifts” which purport to limit the “gifts” to a list of 5 or 9 or 14 gifts.  I know there are several New Testament passages which discuss spiritual gifts and which do list specific examples of them, but I …