Tough Love

1 Corinthians 13

The simplest truth about human relationships is that if we just loved one another a bit more, we would have fewer problems.  I know, it is a bit cliche, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Our focus would be consistently outward.  We would be ready to listen and meet the needs of others. God has made it pretty clear that the most hardened heart can soften by showing the quality that embodies who He is, yet it is a weapon we often leave unwelded.  We often list our harshness or judgements under the guise of “tough love”, and this may or may not be true on a case-by-case basis. However, we must stick closely to the prescribed path in 1 Corinthians 13.  It actually might be simpler to love “toughly”, but if you simply write people off, or find a way to punish them, or speak your mind without backing it up with the many other qualities listed here, you are a hollow box and a lot of noise.  What’s tough love, really tough love, is to love someone who isn’t concerned in the slightest with being like God at the moment, or even ever. Love never fails. So you must love. You absolutely must.  And your love must be like God’s love.  Below I reworded one of the most famous passages of scriptures (v.4-7) that coincides with our reading and, most likely, one of the last handful of weddings you attended.  My goal isn’t to add to the list, only to reword it to give it novelty in hopes to make it challenging or convicting instead of a rehearsal of familiar words.  If it helps tune your mind to God’s love, wonderful.  If it is a confusing mess, don’t read it.  My concern is that you know loving is tough, especially those whose actions betray your love.  That shouldn’t stop you.  But THAT is tough love.  And THAT is what God shows to each one of us on the daily.

For God to come in and change the “unlovable” (mind you, this can be and has been you), you must sit and listen. Listen to their problems and hear them say what they think, even if you don’t agree. You have to include them, share with them, and treat them with dignity, even if they are not concerned in the slightest about having any.  To love, you have to let others be great and cheer them on.  Sometimes this means the spotlight will come off of you, or you are treated as less important.  If you are loving, you’re not concerned with that, because in love, others come first.  Love holds back the insults, name-calling, and doesn’t attack a person made in the image of God.  True love can be shown without expecting anything in return and can be left unreciprocated.  On rare occasions, you can have angry love.  You can be mad at someone because they are doing some serious sin damage to others or even him/herself.  But you don’t start there.  You don’t live there.  You are truthful with someone, because lying is not loving.  But you retreat quickly from the fight, and fill the space with mercy, more patience, and more kindness.  That means love is forgiveness, and not holding grudges.  We can love those who have wronged us.  We can love those who have besmirched our reputation, injured our family through carelessness, or hate us because of our beliefs. We may know their wrong to us as a historical account, but not as an emotional one, and we thank God we have an opportunity to show love to them in such a way.  In fact, loving like God means that you would actually stand-up for this person who has done you the greatest harm.  Loving someone means that you are trusting without “but.” And that can be so hard. But trusting in God first and foremost allows you to do that.  Believe in people.  Never give up on people.  Much easier said than done. It’s tough. So tough. But don’t let it stop you from trying. Your efforts are to help others see God, and they will know His love because it has been extended to and shown through you.

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Esther 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 13

A Seemingly Small Part

of God’s work,

1 Corinthians 12

When we think of the ear, we most likely are thinking about those lumpy, peculiar bits of cartilage just on the outside of our head.  While their shape helps us to ping the location of the sound, the majority of the work is being done on the inside.  The eardrum is vibrating, creating the analog beating that is then turned to electronic impulses that our brain interprets.  But even just beyond the eardrum, there is great work happening that is equally important to the overall function and health of the body, although this is assuming you are not hearing alarming noises at the present. Enter the eustachian tube.  It is the gravity-driven country road between the other side of your ear and the top of your throat.  This little pathway is responsible for a couple of very key functions, which you may never be aware of if all is going according to plan.  It sends any junk the ear makes down and out.  It prevents bacteria and any other intruders from creeping up.  But finally, its primary function might just sweep you off your feet, literally.  The regulation of gas and pressure behind our eardrum is important to hearing, but even more important to balance.  If this is the slightest bit off, we may be experiencing a case of vertigo, an internal roller coaster that never leaves the station. The room will spin.  Sweat forms on our brow.  Our eyes jitter.  Our head pounds.  Nausea fills our belly until our body cannot take it any longer and we “blow chunks” as one might put it more indelicately. Oh, and yes, you may lose your hearing too.  All because a space less than a quarter of a square inch doesn’t have the right amount of pressurized gas.

In Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of the ear, but also hands, feet, and eyes.  The metaphors for the functions of each part of our body are endless.  Physically, we can “survive” without some parts, but we recognize that functioning as a whole is disabled because something, or to Paul’s analogy, someone, is missing.  While it may be more obvious when a man or woman is missing an eye or a digit, it is equally important to recognize when we are missing the kidneys and a liver which are removing the poison, or the amygdala which is controlling our rage and lashing out, and yes, the eustachian tube which is providing a steady balance.  These parts are easily overlooked, and many times, the people fulfilling these roles are not only disregarded, but are themselves unaware they are doing them.  These aren’t the folks performing miracles, preaching in the street, or speaking in tongues.  These are the ones who watchfully discern, the ones who are unflinchingly faithful, who make and show perfect peace, and those who have an infinite amount of helping hands to extend.  These are of special modesty, but of equal concern (v.25).

“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” – 1 Corinthians 12:18

Now, for the bit with application.  We often give much love to the “showier” bits.  Those who take on a responsibility during a worship service or teach a class, but for a moment, think about the hidden parts among your church body.  Who stands watch (physically or emotionally) at the door of your church?  Who finds a way to create harmony between a foot and a hand vying for the same attention? Who shares their faith when doubt is beginning to spread among the believers?  It is time to take notice.  To recognize. Find a way to show this part of the body some love today. A call, a text, a card, a small token, or a chore done.  It is a very important bit of “self” care. Chances are they will be modest.  They will say they aren’t really doing anything important.  The truth is, they might be the very part keeping the church on their feet, preventing potential headaches, heading off a building rejection of the stomach, or simply lending a listening ear.  If they suffer, so do we, BUT if they rejoice, so do we.  We absolutely need all the parts to be the church we are called to be.

“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.” – 1 Corinthians 12:22-24a

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 11-13 and 1 Corinthians 12

Beat into Submission

1 Corinthians 9

Just like many of you, the familiar John Williams Olympic anthem, “Daaa…Daaa…Da. Da. Da. Da.” has already rang through my ears a handful of times as I watched the opening of the summer Olympic games. It has always marked anticipation, but more so this year, an end to a long sigh created by the indefinite postponement of the Tokyo 2020 a year ago.  While there are no crowds in attendance, the athletes are masked, and there is some political drama that often surrounds countries in participation, the beating of those timpani drums and the blaring french horns help us to remember a place we’ve been before.  All of this solely from a spectator’s point-of-view.  How much more have the athletes participating in the games marked this moment?  A year of extra training and sacrifice to compete at the highest level on a global stage, doing so maneuvering through a world experiencing a global crisis.  These medals given this year are seemingly worth more because of the delay and extra challenges these athletes faced in their training. 

It is fortuitous that our reading befits this moment where we are consumed with this competition for medals and crowing of our victors:

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air” – 1 Corinthians 9:26

So, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you are not one of the 15,000+ athletes competing in the summer Olympic or Paralympic games (although, we would welcome any Olympian to read).  You may be accomplished at a single sport, but you’re undoubtedly not at the next level.  You may be dedicated to a fitness program, but you are not sacrificing all of your playtime or rearranging your schedule for your athletic pursuits.  You haven’t hired a trainer.  You haven’t shaved your legs to remove a hundredths of a second from your personal best.  You may not even be inspired to any athletic pursuit simply by watching (although many future Olympians are).  Yet, by being a follower of Christ (not the games), you are being called, challenged, and elicited into a training that is more demanding, more exasperating, and more punishing than any Olympian has ever faced in the context of competition at the games.

While there are several paths of metaphors we could draw from, the one that is most striking are the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians. It is the most intense description, hyperbole that could very well be made literal in some contexts. Ultimately, we must slave away at becoming the most disciplined evangelist, with the purpose of preaching and living out the gospel of Jesus Christ or plainly face disqualification from the prize.

“No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:27

This is a scary thought.  That my faith must be trained and disciplined in such a way that it would be on that next-level, to compete for a prize that is longer lasting than precious metals.  My evangelism could be record-setting. My ministry could be to a worldwide audience. But what stands in the way is my greatest opponent. Who is it?  Me.  Because I must be willing to give up the life that I could have in order to live for the glory that I am supposed to attain. I must be willing to strike a self-blow, to cut off my hand, to gouge out my eye, and to die daily. Or more realistically, get off my phone, read and pray consistently, have uncomfortable conversations, be filled with the Spirit of God, and let my coach and my God call all the shots. This is what I must do in order to make gains, receiving the strength and knowledge that comes through Christ Jesus. While it must be an incredible experience for the world to see you lower your head to receive your medal as a victor, representing your people and country, how much greater will it be to receive the crown of life which represents a kingdom and people that are far more perfect than the ideals that guide the games we currently watch?  Whether you have started your training already, are coming out of retirement, or beginning your training today, take a good look at your opponent in the mirror.  Size him/her up. You ultimately will have to be disciplined enough to take him/her on, become enslaved to Christ, and with the grace of God, beat yourself into submission, so God can see you through to the victory.

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 5-6 and 1 Corinthians 9

Be Strong

1 Corinthians 15-16

Welcome back to our final chapters in 1st Corinthians!

Chapter 15 must be one of the most powerful and hopeful chapters that Paul has written.  There is no one that can leave this chapter feeling defeated with a message taunting Death asking “Where is your victory?  Where is your sting?” (15:55).  We have a victory in Christ that no one can stop, not even something that feels as permanent and powerful as death.

This year has brought many challenges.  People have experienced financial struggles, people have dealt with severe illnesses and deaths, people have experienced mental and emotional turmoil, people have disagreed with those they are closest to, people have felt betrayed, silenced, oppressed, offended, and defeated.  It is so easy this year to become discouraged, and no one would blame anyone if they did not focus on something as far away as the Kingdom.

But that focus on the Kingdom must be at the front of our minds daily, because without it, the darkness that is this world today will all too easily take over our own life.  Paul calls us to be steadfast, immovable, working enthusiastically for the Lord, and knowing that our work is not in vain (15:58). 

In a world where so often the struggles and challenges we face are in front of us due to someone else’s choices, it can be incredibly uplifting to remember that Jesus will abolish all of the rule and power on earth, God will put the enemies under his feet, and our world will be at peace for the first time since the fall of man.  There is a point where things will be made perfect, and those who have committed themselves to Christ will have an opportunity to experience that perfection.

What strikes me while reading these passages is how even when though this was written to a specific church however many hundreds of years ago, the message has never changed and is incredibly applicable in 2020.  Our God is unchanging, despite our world changing so rapidly away from Him.  In this changing world we must put our faith, trust, and hope in an unchanging God.  I don’t care how cheesy that sounds!

So where does Paul leave the church in this letter?  He doesn’t just finish with a message of hope.  True to form, Paul gives the church one more reality check in chapter 16.  Verse 13 says “Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.”  To me that message is one that you leave when you know something’s coming…  Paul wasn’t finishing on a happy-go-lucky victory note because he knows that the victory doesn’t come without a battle.  As we grow closer and closer to Christ’s return, we can expect our world to continue to fall.  Yes, we have a hope.  Yes, that hope should carry us through the hard times.  And yes, we should be ready for a spiritual fight. 

We shouldn’t be living in fear of the battle, because we already know the outcome.  We should be living with the intention of being on the winning side.  When we are confidently standing with the winner, we should be finding everyone else we can to bring them to victory as well.  That is our mission.

I am so excited to jump into 2nd Corinthians with you all tomorrow!  Until then, My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus.

-Sarah Blanchard

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Corinthians 15-16

Tomorrow we will begin 2 Corinthians (chapters 1-4).

Love others and tell them about Jesus

1 Corinthians 12-14

Happy December everyone!!

Most everyone following this blog has probably read through these passages today… each chapter could have its own devotional!  Within these we have the passage on Spiritual Gifts, we have the Love chapter, and we have one of the more argued and misinterpreted verses regarding women in the church – all in one day! 

The not so crazy thing about all these chapters is how at the heart of each of them, there is one message that prevails: Love others and tell them about Jesus.  Whether it is an outsider, a fellow believer, a spouse, or anyone you meet… we are told to show them love and tell them about Jesus.

When discussing the spiritual gifts Paul talks about the importance of each member of the body being placed exactly where God wants them (12:18) and remaining united within the Church (12:25).  I have usually heard these verses used to showcase why everyone is equally important within the Church and that you should never compare yourself or your gifts to someone else’s.  However, Paul gives a pecking order in verse 28: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, managing, various kinds of languages…   At first this can seem a little harsh, especially if you’re a helper or someone who speaks another language!  And it is harsh, if you stop reading there.

In chapter 14 Paul continues “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy.”  Paul is telling everyone that the main goal is to spread the message of Jesus, and love others.  He doesn’t say it’s bad to do any of the other tasks or fill other roles within the church, in fact in the previous chapter he describes at length why it is so important for everyone to be unique and do the work God intends for them.  What he is also saying here is that it is everyone’s mission to tell others about Jesus and the fact that he is coming back.  Just as every part of the body functions independently with the purpose of living daily, every part of the body of Christ must function independently with the message of the Kingdom coming.

This message continues even in chapter 14 verse 34, when Paul writes that the women of the church should be silent and submissive.  In these verses it is important to remember the historical context in which Paul is writing.  At this time, women did not hold places of leadership, and women did not *generally* have a role in proclaiming the message.  Additionally, the church in Corinth had women who struggled to act as godly women, partially because their husbands and other leaders in the church also struggled to live righteous lives.  I do not think that Paul is hating on the women, but rather explaining that when the church is struggling and in need of repair, the gossiping, adulterous, and unrighteous should not have a say in the direction of the church.  He is describing the importance of church leaders to be focused on the mission.

The call to prophesy is not one to be taken lightly, and Paul wants to make sure that the church understands that.  It is also one that the church is called to eagerly strive for, for the sake of the Kingdom.  Chapter 14 verse 24 reads “But if all are prophesying and some unbeliever or uninformed person comes in, he is convicted by all.  The secrets of his heart will be revealed, and as a result he will fall facedown and worship God, proclaiming, ‘God is really among you.’”

Let that be our goal as the Church, that anyone who walks in will have no other inclination but to fall down in worship of our great God because of our focus on His mission! 

-Sarah Blanchard Johnson

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Come back tomorrow as we together finish 1 Corinthians with chapters 15 & 16.

Watch Yourself – as you step outside

1 Corinthians 9-11

Remember when I said yesterday that the message about spreading the Good News was coming?  Well, we start slowly diving into that idea with these passages today. 

In chapter nine Paul discusses how he reaches outsiders… by becoming like them (9:20-22).  Did anyone else have to reread those verses a few times?  What apostle would tell people that they should become like the outsiders in order to reach them?!?  (Hint: Probably one who knew what he was talking about!)  Before we get too worked up, let’s look at what was really being written here:

Paul wasn’t saying that we need to go out and change our lifestyles to match the sins of the world, and then try to convince them that a godly lifestyle is better.  Rather, Paul is saying that in order to reach people on the outside, we must actually go out and meet people where they’re at.  As the Church, we cannot expect to sit high and mighty in a physical building and still reach the lost.  We must go out, find those people on the outside, and witness to them from a humble perspective that understands how desperately we need the same message of grace and hope that they do. 

Within these chapters Paul does not let the Corinthians forget to think introspectively.  In fact, he spins it to describe the importance of checking on our own faith life to continue in our mission.  Chapter nine verse 27 reads “I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I will not be disqualified.” And chapter 10 verse 12 reads “So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.” And finally, chapter 11 verse 28 says “So a man should examine himself [before] he should eat the bread and drink from the cup.”.  All these verses are essentially Paul saying “Check yourself before you wreck yourself!” Which is completely valid!  As the Church goes out into the world to reach those outsiders the temptation and draw away from righteousness is greater than if we only surround ourselves with like-minded people.  Without taking time to focus on our own faith life, we will be just as ineffective in spreading the Word as if we did not go out in the first place.

The other idea that Paul writes about in these chapters is how the body of believers must respect one another and stay focused on what really matters.  “No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person.” (10:24) I think it is pretty clearly laid out here; put others first!  In chapter 10 Paul is touching on the disagreements that came up related to what the believers were eating, in chapter 11 it was on what the women were wearing while praying.  In both these areas, essentially Paul is saying, “It doesn’t matter as long as they aren’t going against God!”.  Sometimes the Church can get wrapped up in those little disagreements and start to divide over things that will not matter in the Kingdom, which is why Paul tells us that “whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory.” (10:31) When we can recognize what issues in the Church truly matter, the body is built up and can refocus on their main mission of reaching those on the outside.

Today, take time to evaluate your own walk of faith.  See where you can come closer to God while still being closer to those on the outside.  Reflect on your local church and see which little issues you can set aside for the sake of the Kingdom. 

I’m excited for our next few chapters as we talk about the importance of each member in the Church!

Happy Monday everyone!

Sarah Blanchard Johnson

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Corinthians 9-11.

Tomorrow we will continue with chapters 12-14.

A Different Approach to Judging

1 Corinthians 5-8

Hello friends! 

What a year we have had… and that’s about all I am going to say on that 😊

Diving into the chapters for today I am reminded how many good bits Paul has in these letters!  Sometimes I envision Paul as a public speaker just because his words can pack such an impactful punch that makes me stop and go, “Woah.”

In all the great one-liners throughout these chapters I was made aware of one theme that Paul was trying to get the church in Corinth to understand.  Ultimately, Paul was trying to get the church to look at themselves introspectively and fix their body of believers.  1 Corinthians 5:12 sums his idea up nicely as he writes “For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders?  Don’t you judge those who are inside?” 

Here Paul is basically calling this church out for being self-righteous.  He explains to them the difference in expectations for those who are called believers and those who are not (1 Corinthians 5:11; 7:15).  Paul is not saying anything in these few chapters about how the church should be bringing outsiders to truth or spreading the Gospel (but don’t worry, that Good News message is coming later) because he knows that they will be ineffective in that area until they can rebuild and refocus their own body of believers. 

When I look at our global Church today, I think we need to take this same introspective approach before we can be as effective in spreading the Word.  While every individual church looks different, globally the Church has been struggling to balance the extremes of our world.  Some churches are hateful and judgmental to those unlike them, while others celebrate and condone individual choices that directly go against what the Bible says is righteous.  Both kinds of churches are ignoring the message from this particular passage; Show respect and love to all while keeping believers on the path of righteousness.  It is as simple, and as complex, as that. 

When you look at your own church, or even your own family, where do you see room for improvement within this message?  Our world is hurting right now, and clearly in need of grace, hope, and redemption that Jesus offers.  Are you in a position to show this same grace, hope, and message of redemption to outsiders?  If you are, are you acting on that?  And if not, what needs to happen for you to get to this place? I encourage you to take time today to consider where you stand on this area and ask God to show you where He wants you to be instead.  I know for myself I always have room to grow.

I look forward to journeying through these letters with you over this next week!  I am always struck by how much God can speak through these devotions, and I hope you are too.

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Corinthians 5-8.

Tomorrow we continue with chapters 9-11.

The Mind of Christ – in You

1st Corinthians 1-4


Have you ever been sucked into watching an infomercial? Have you ever purchased something from an infomercial? I have a few times. I believe that my purchases have involved some sort of exercise workout or nutritional program. All guaranteed me phenomenal results. The truth is I have not experienced all the effects that these infomercials promised me. Does that shock you?


Whatever it is, we humans like guarantees. We crave guarantees because we know that we’re likely to mess it up and we want something that can still be true even with a faulty operator. 


Thank GOD that His faithfulness to me is not dependent on my ability to do right. Even on my best days I still fall short. 


One of God’s promises to us is that we have the mind of Christ.  


Not: We will have the mind of Christ – something that is promised for the future.


Not: We can have the mind of Christ – something that is contingent upon something else.


Not: We might have the mind of Christ – something that is uncertain or not yet determined to be true.


We have the mind of Christ…NOW! It’s guaranteed! Isn’t that amazing?!?!


What are the implications of this truth for you – YOU HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST. It’s a done deal. How will this reality change the thoughts that you think, the words that you speak, the actions that you take? 


Take a bit of time today and prayerfully consider the kind of response God might be asking of you.

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at Bible GateWay here – 1 Corinthians 1-4

Tomorrow we continue with 1 Corinthians 5-8

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