Beyond the Gospels: Corinthians

Today’s Scripture: 2 Corinthians 13

(Click on the link to read today’s verses.)

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. ––2 Corinthians 13:5

Self-examination is one of the most important spiritual disciplines we can practice. I’m pretty sure it is also the hardest. Taking an honest look at ourselves can be well… yuck. Still the Scriptures encourage us to do so.

Create in me a clean heart O God; and renew a right spirit within me. ––Ps 51:10

Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.—Ps 139: 23-24

Opening up our hearts to the Spirit and allowing God to search us, test us, try us might make us a little anxious. At least it makes me anxious. I don’t really want God to see what’s REALLY going on in my heart when it comes to certain circumstances. There are times I would rather just hang on to my bad attitude or judgmental spirit or anger.

It’s Thursday… Maundy Thursday. We will gather for worship this evening and think of Jesus with the disciples. How He washed their feet… gave His body, His blood. Have you ever had someone you know, someone close to you wash your feet? (The person giving you a pedicure doesn’t count.) For me it causes all types of discomfort. I become completely absorbed in the condition of my feet. Do they smell? How dirty are they? Are my toenails painted neatly? I could wash someone’s feet pretty easily, but not the other way around. I don’t want someone to have to touch all that ick. I’ll just do it myself, but thanks for the offer.

Allowing God to search our hearts, thoughts, attitudes and actions is a lot like foot washing. We don’t want Jesus to go there… it is too dirty for a King. It’s better if we just clean our own selves up right? Uh… no… not even possible. The disciples had to allow Jesus to wash their feet just like we must allow Him to search us… examine us… test us. When we do, healing follows and we find ourselves free… for those whom the Son sets free, are free indeed!

Lord, prepare my heart to be examined by You.
I know You already know what’s in there; the examination is for my benefit.
Reveal what’s in my heart, what I need to deal with to draw closer to You, 
to follow You better, to share Your love and grace with others
the same way You do with me.

Beyond the Gospels: Corinthians

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:11-21
(Click on the link to read today’s verses.)

By the end of these verses Paul gives us an honest look into his feelings about those in Corinth. He’s told them how much he loves them and tried to do what is right by them. It’s as if he has spent all of his energy trying to get them to see the truth and in a moment his true feelings are revealed. He uses two powerful words each of us can identify with in some way when it comes to our relationships with others.

He’s afraid — afraid of the condition of their hearts, fearful of the sin they are allowing among themselves, afraid of being humbled before them.

He’s grieved. It is a word not only revealing his sadness, but a sadness to the point of suffering. Paul is literally suffering over the situation in Corinth.

I’ve been right where Paul is in my life. Afraid for those I love to the point of suffering. I wonder… is there someone you are thinking of at this very moment? Someone you’ve spent years praying for with what feels like no answer? Someone you wish could see God’s truth and live in it? Someone you’ve cried a great number of tears over?

I get it, and so did Paul. Maybe knowing we’re not alone in our fear and grief for others is just what we need today. I can’t help but consider we are mid-way through Holy Week. Loving others to the point of suffering is the message spoken straight from the cross. The work our Savior did on Calvary exchanged our fear, grief, and death for life. It still does today.

That someone you were reminded about earlier. Don’t give up or give in. Keep loving and praying for them. Each time you think of them, carry them to the foot of the cross… lay them down at the altar of Christ’s feet. Cry more tears, suffer a little longer. Jesus did for us… so we do for others.

Oh, Lord Jesus! Help me to understand more fully Your heart of love
that held You to the cross. Empower me by Your Holy Spirit
to love others as You do.

Beyond the Gospels: Corinthians

Today’s Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

(Click on the link to read today’s verses.)
Paul talks of a thorn in his flesh… something that irritates, annoys, and causes pain… some messenger from Satan meant to torment. Many have wondered what exactly this was. Speculations continue today, and honestly I’m not sure why. Paul wasn’t exact about the thorn in his life, but He was exact about who allowed it and why. 
This thorn had a purpose. It kept Paul’s ego in check, and revealed to Him a priceless truth. 

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.”—vs. 9

Grace and power are perfectly revealed in our weakness. Is there some weakness you’ve carried for years? Some thorn that just won’t let up? Maybe it annoys and irritates you to no end. You’ve probably prayed more than once for God to take it from you… to give you some relief. Praise God we are not alone in this. Paul understood and when we lean on His words we too become strong. In the moment we choose His grace over our own will is the moment we are strong.

Lord, today I thank You for allowing thorns in my life
that I might know my weakness and Your strength.
Amen.

Beyond the Gospels: Corinthians

Today’s Scripture: 2 Corinthians 11:16-33
(Click on the link to read today’s verses.)

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.—vs. 30

This thought is so opposite of the world’s. All around us people boasting of their goodness… their strengths… their success. We are all prone to boast about the good things and cover the weaknesses. I can only think of one thing that keeps us hiding weakness: pride. We’re a proud people. But God’s Word says,

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.—James 4:10

In my experience when we are willing to be honest about our weakness, it is the very place we often connect with others. It’s the place God uses to reach out and love others through us. It gives us a heart of mercy, compassion, and grace for those struggling in the same areas. This is beautiful humility, and in the midst of it God lifts us up.

What have you boasted about lately? Maybe today is the day you might share your weakness with someone.

Lord Jesus, I boast about You alone.
I am nothing. You are everything.
You are my strength, my righteousness,
my goodness, my light.

Beyond the Gospels: Corinthians

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 11:1-15
(Most days you probably click on the link to read the Scripture, but today… find your Bible. Hold it in your hands.)

Paul is concerned about the believers in Corinth. Deception seems to be creeping into the church. It still happens today, but we have something the early believers didn’t. If you found your Bible, then you are holding it right in the palm of your hand. I’m reminded of what a miracle it is to have God’s Word so easily accessible. The sheer weight of it leaves me awe struck for a moment.

When I was in Bible class at Perkins we were taught that the Bible is called the Cannon. It literally means measuring rod. I’ve grown to love the thought. At any moment… any time… we can pick up this book that reveals truth and deception. A place we can go to see how teachings and thoughts measure up to God’s Word and Way.

Is there something you are wondering about… trying to decide God’s way in it? The answer, every single answer, lies in the pages of God’s Word. When we seek revelation with an open heart, the Holy Spirit takes print on a page and breathes life into words. It is one miracle we have an opportunity to experience every day.

Father God, the concept of truth isn’t readily accepted in our culture today.
Many live their lives based on their own version of  “truth.”
I desire Your Truth, the Truth that doesn’t change. The Truth that is true!
Open up Your Word to me. Teach me Your Truth and how to walk in its Way.

The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
Psalm 119:160 ESV

Beyond the Gospels: Corinthians

Today’s Scripture: 2 Corinthians 10:9-18
(We’re going to read today’s Scripture from The Message. Click on the link to read.)

We’re the exact same people, absent or present, in letter or in person.

Things don’t change much over time if you think about it. It is easy today with all the social media in our lives to present something we are not. The saying, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” goes much deeper than a vacation trip. What we present to the world doesn’t always match who we really are.

I wonder what it would take for us to be the exact same people no matter where we are or what circumstance we’re facing. In a world where nothing is really as it seems, authenticity might just be the key. Like Paul, we may be questioned, some may judge our inadequacies… others just won’t understand. No matter. When we reveal on the outside what God is doing in us, the Holy Spirit uses it to draw others to Him.

There’s a song I hear once in a while… the singer asking to be a see through Christian. What would that look like in my life? in yours? Today may we live and go about our day being the exact same person in our homes, at our jobs, even at the grocery store. May others see through us straight to Jesus.

Father God, bless me with the grace to be who You created me to be
both inside and out. Bless me with the grace to accept those around me 
as You work in their hearts, too.

Beyond the Gospels: Corinthians

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 10:1-8

(No Bible handy? Just click on the link to read today’s Scripture.)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.–vs. 5

Webster’s defines captive as “taken and held as or as if a prisoner of war.”

I wonder how many thoughts one might have in a day. I did a little Internet search just for fun. Most say the average person has fifty to seventy thousand thoughts per day… that’s 39-45 thoughts per minute… at least one every two seconds! I had to take a moment with that one. The number seems staggering, and it leaves me wondering how in the world we can take every thought captive. How does that work? I’m sort of thinking it’s impossible.

Maybe that is just how God intended it to be. He created our thought life in a way that would be impossible to tame on our own. Taking captive every thought, making it obedient to Christ, only happens when we rely on the Spirit living in us. We think… He whispers His way in our thoughts… and leaves us with a choice.

You’ve been there before, so have I. A not so great thought enters the mind and sometimes it just seems to stick. We mull it over… moving it ’round and ’round like clothes in a dryer. What would happen if at the moment it enters our mind, the very moment we think it — we make a choice? The choice to bring it to Jesus… to take it captive to obedience. Imagine making the choice 50,000 times a day.

It all starts with the first one. One thought at a time… one choice at a time. Let’s be aware today. Let’s notice just one thought and make the choice. Let’s take the thought and chain it up… drag it right to the foot of the cross.

Lord Jesus, I commit my thoughts to You.
Continue to remind me that I don’t have to keep my mind
set on worries, revenge, lust, greed, envy, anger…
Teach me to take every thought captive
and make it obedient to You.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Philippians 4:8 ESV

Beyond the Gospels: Corinthians

Today’s Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9
(Click on the link for today’s reading.)

Now He who supplies seed for the sower and bread for food…–vs. 10

You will probably find this a little funny. Just go with me for a minute. As I type these words I’m sitting right outside my garden. I just finished sowing sunflower seeds in the garden… the seeds I planted a few weeks ago have yielded little green shoots…

and my four hens are scratching dirt around my chair.

The sun is almost set and I’m thinking this is a perfect picture of God providing. I know what you’re thinking. My husband has already reminded me I’m just a little “country.” He comes to see what I’m up to and asks, “What in the world are those chickens scratching at? What’s under there?” I answer from my wise chicken knowledge, “I have no idea!”

Here’s what I do know. Chickens don’t move leaves and dirt and peck the ground unless there is something worth eating under there. If He provides food for chickens, I’m confident He does the same for us.

Sometimes we just don’t see it. We might just have to scratch the surface to get to it… dig a little deeper with our faith. God supplies seed for the sower and bread for food. We can’t take the credit or make it happen. Our job is to plant the seeds, dig a little deeper and give credit where credit is due.

Lord, there is nothing I have that did not come from Your hand.
Thank You for Your provision and many graces.
Open my eyes to see and my hands to receive
all You have for me.

Beyond the Gospels: Corinthians

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:16-24
(Click on the link to read today’s verses.)

For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.–vs. 21

Imagine Paul at this point. An offering has been collected and now they must make decisions about what to do with it. This is no easy task. Money sometimes brings out the worst in us. He assures them they are taking pains to do what is right… for God… for man. The two don’t always agree, and church leaders often have the hard task of making decisions and setting priorities for the whole body. It can be a struggle even to the point of pain.

This reminds me of two things. The first learned after many years of ministry. I’ve seen lean years when ministry dollars had to be cut, and it was painful. There is nothing easy about looking at your budget for the year and trying to discern what to go forward with and what to leave behind. I’ve shed tears over it, and worried about how it would effect those involved. The years have convinced me of one thing. If it is the right thing for God and man, He will provide. He’s proven it time and time again.

The second is a reminder to pray for those who are in leadership at our church. The sisters and brothers in Christ who have accepted the call to leadership roles that make decisions on behalf of the body of Christ. Let us lift them up in prayer today. May they be rooted and grounded in God’s love as they take pain to do what is right… for God… for us.

Father God, today I pray for those making financial decisions
for Your church. I pray first and foremost, they remember
it is Your church. Second, I ask You to remind them
to seek Your wisdom and discernment.
In turn, help me to honor those who have taken leadership positions
at FUMC, Jacksonville and respect the decisions they make.

Beyond the Gospels: Corinthians

Today’s Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
(Click on the link for today’s reading.)

Paul is encouraging those in Corinth to give generously, and something gets my attention.

Last year you were the first not only to give, but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work… –vs. 10-11

I’m really good at beginnings. I love the newness of it. New beginnings… new things… are wonderful when they are new. In the children’s sermon this week we talked about my love for a new box of crayons, and the preacher spoke of his love for new cars. In his sermon, Doug gave us some background on the phrase “brand new.”

According to folks a lot smarter than myself at the Online Etymology Dictionary, the phrase actually comes from an Old English word that means “fire, flame; firebrand, piece of burning wood, torch.” Even ol’ Bill Shakespeare instead of writing “brand-new” used the term “fire-new.”  

The Corinthians must have experienced that “on fire” feeling when they first had the desire to give. You know the excitement and burning when God is leading us into something new. But a year had gone by and maybe that fire had dwindled to nothing but a smolder. Oh, that we would all have a Paul in our lives. Someone who would say without hesitation, “Now finish the work.”

Time has a way of turning our brand new into mere ashes. We get burned up and burned out. We get fired up about something, but walking through the fire to completion is tough. The Psalmist writes:

For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver.— Psalm 66:10

Refining takes heat, lots of heat. As we walk through fire to completion those things separating us from God are revealed and we are refined. God is faithful to complete what He starts. He is not willing to leave us partially done. Yes, it might get hot along the way. There are times we feel all burned up. Maybe the old saying is true, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Maybe whisps of white smoke rising are just a signal that we’re moving through fire to completion… from new beginnings to something brand new…

Lord, keep the fire of brand new faith burning in my heart and life.