1st Corinthians 12:12-13 says, “For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
Then in verses 26-27 we see the words, “So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.” (HCSB)
In the family of God, we share each other’s burdens and rejoice with each other’s victories. Everyone has a different role to play in the body, but those roles are equally important.
My boss recently traveled to Turkey with his father who is a Biblical unitarian pastor to see some Biblical historical sites and came back with lots of stories. He did not bring me back any Turkish delight, but he provided a pretty neat church history lesson in the middle of our therapy department this week. He talked about Constantine, the Roman Catholics, church disputes and the historic structure he toured called the Hagia Sophia, that has apparently withstood centuries of empires/turmoils in what is now Istanbul. Though I know a little bit about Constantine and find history pretty interesting, this place he mentioned was completely new to me. Hearing it was from the 400’s and some of the history behind it had us all talking about the nature of conflict that is always a part of world history and church history. And some if it explains a lot.
Arguments and divisions are nothing new in societies or religious organizations. I use the term religious organization because sometimes I hate to even taint the word “church” more than it already is. As followers of Christ we are part of the greater church. The true church. Not the Sunday morning entertainment center or tax exempt non-for-profit club. We are part of the body of Christ/church family that transcends state lines, continents, races, and generations. And within that church we are to be unified in truth/purpose and actively loving one another more while serving ourselves less.
When we think of “church” today, any number of ideas might come to our minds, though I am not sure much of them are what the New Testament church would have hoped for centuries later. If anyone wants a very convicting laugh…..check out the YouTube video “Drive Thru Church”. A friend shared this with me and it just rang so true. But, maybe we’d have less of a consumer-driven attitude if we, as the body of Christ, were consistently doing what we were called to do. And that calling is high, but worth it. There is a day coming sooner rather than later when it seems that the true church is going to need to become more and more distinct from those who slap that name on their seeker-sensitive organizations or lukewarm social gatherings Jesus tells us he wants to spit out of his mouth. But, this isn’t the time for the pot to call the kettle black. It is the time to ensure that each of us is prioritizing his/her relationship with God and His family, loving the “one another” of the church body, and together upholding the inerrant Word of God as representatives of His kingdom.
“Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10:25
“I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21
When Jesus told Peter to ‘Feed my sheep,’ he was commissioning him as a shepherd. And in the book of First Peter, we see a part of the fulfillment of that commission.
There are believers (the Lord’s sheep) scattered throughout Roman provinces in Asia Minor, and Peter is writing a letter to be routed amongst them.
There was a movie out in the 90’s about a pig that herded sheep. When the sheep dogs on the farm did their job, they demeaned and scared the sheep into submission. But sweet little Babe the piglet just asked them nicely and off they marched in lines for him.
Sheep of a different flock, however, didn’t know this sweet pig, and saw no reason to listen to him. That is, until, Babe received word from his pasture back home of the secret words to tell these new sheep that he was on their side. ‘Baa, Ram, Ewe’
We are an individualistic bunch of sheep, I think.
Maybe it’s just me. Reading the book of First Peter with the eyes of a flock, a group, instead of reading it just for me, I see it somewhat differently. There’s a definite theme coming through it all that it seems Peter wanted these sheep in his scattered pasture to remember:
There’s more than this.
Seek the holiness of sincere love for each other, because you’re like perishing blades of grass and God’s ways endure. There’s more than this way of loving.
You might feel rejected, but you are chosen. There’s more than this world’s acceptance.
Live to please God not the society you live in. There’s more than this wisdom.
God cares about how you treat your family. There’s more than your own perspective.
Compassion and humility never go out of style. There’s more to be gained through suffering than we can often see.
Wake up, pay attention, Jesus is coming back and you need to be ready. There’s literally more than this world coming one day.
Peter may not have needed to say ‘Baa, Ram, Ewe’ to unite the scattered sheep of his day, but perhaps we need a reminder that we, too, are a scattered flock.
Friends, there’s more than this.
Do you feel the sincere love of the body of Christ? No? Don’t wait for someone else to ‘do something’ about it. Everyone else is a perishing blade of grass just like you. Authentic love doesn’t start with a social media campaign; and it doesn’t start with the whole church, it starts with a few individuals. Be those few.
There’s more than this way of loving.
Have you felt rejected? Alone? Broken? Empty? Peter’s response to the scattered flock on this issue was to remind them about Jesus, and of this: “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
It seems that acceptance begins with mercy. Mercy comes after repentance. Repentance comes after we own up to our sin. This world tells us to own our sin. Big difference.
There’s more than this world’s acceptance.
Along those lines, if the wisdom of this world affirms all of your choices, you might want to question if God would. Living to please God rarely aligns with the wisdom of this world.
There’s more than this wisdom.
Perspective is a powerful influencer, and seeing our family solely from the lens of our own perspective is not only selfish, but dangerous. We can fall into the trap of living for ourselves even while fooling ourself into thinking we are part of a team. How lonely. How unfulfilling. And definitely not God’s best for us.
There’s more than your own perspective.
Suffering is difficult and hard and it stinks. Anyone who says to say ‘Praise God!’ for suffering is a liar or a robot (or a lying robot, perhaps?). Jesus didn’t even want to suffer, he asked his Father if he could avoid it if possible.
Finding peace in the midst of suffering, finding joy in God’s provision during times of suffering, and praising God during suffering are all very different than praising him FOR the suffering.
There’s more to be gained through suffering than we can often see.
Peter quotes a Psalm and tells these scattered sheep that “they must seek peace and pursue it.” Compassion, humility, gentleness, sympathy, blessing… these are all active. A person who is actively pursuing peace, especially when suffering abounds, will stand out. Maybe that’s why Peter suggests it?
People loving differently, repenting of sin, showing mercy, treating their families differently, being the most kind, compassionate, gentle, humble, easy to get along with group of people anyone ever met…yet not compromising God’s standards, not backing down, standing strong against the roar of evil around them, refusing to be devoured — Those people would garner attention.
There’s literally more than this world coming one day.
Wake up, pay attention, Jesus is coming back and we need to be ready.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Peter
Tomorrow we begin the book of Hebrews (chapters 1-6)
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!
The book of Ezra picks up the story of Israel at a very important moment: the return from exile. The Persians swoop in and conquer the Babylonians in 539 BC. The persian King, Cyrus the Great, acknowledging God for giving him the kingdoms of the earth, issues a proclamation that the temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt. The Jews who were taken captive and exiled in Babylon are allowed to return to the land they call home and help rebuild the temple. We’re reminded of the Exodus, when God’s people were freed from the clutches of Pharaoh.
For an ancient king, Cyrus seems to be especially respectful of the customs and religions of his subjects. It turns out that this is in a way beneficial for him, since allowing your subjects freedom of religion and not enslaving them earns you so much more support and makes for a more stable empire. He was a bit of a trend setter in this regard.
Cyrus is reversing what Nebuchadnezzar set in motion. Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian empire conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, took the temple vessels, and scattered the people into exile. Cyrus has conquered Babylon, allowed everyone to go back to where they call home, given back the temple vessels, and ordered the temple rebuilt. But really it is God doing the exiling and reversing, through the hands of these kings, to give his people another chance.
Ezra 2 gives an extensive list of the wave of 50,000 some people who returned to Judah, and details the livestock, if you were dying to know. We usually think this kind of passage is a bit of a drag, but it’s really more of a celebration, with more confetti at every name and number. Think of the importance they placed on leadership, and the legacy and roles of the people mentioned. Each of these people are going back to wherever they call home, where they have deep roots and history. Each of them has something unique to contribute toward rebuilding their lives, and they’ll need the skills and resources of everyone to restore Jerusalem and the temple.
Similarly, in the body of Christ, we need the unique skills and gifts everyone brings to the table. We all play an important role in taking care of each other and reaching out into the world.
And so the project begins. First things first! They make sure there is at least an altar and that the usual schedule of sacrifices is back on track. They are trying to build a continuity between what their lives were like before the exile and what they are like now after the exile. Being able to worship again is a stepping stone toward restoration. Routines are important!
Into the second year after returning to Jerusalem, the materials and workers are all being gathered to get the temple together again. When the foundation is laid, there is a big ceremony with music and singing to God. They sing, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” Things are looking up. We’ve got the people, the temple foundation, and some semblance of our usual worship.
But there is something in the air that signals to us that not everything is quite right again. While many people are shouting loudly for joy, many of the older folks who saw the first temple are weeping loudly. It is bittersweet. It is good that there is now at least part of a temple, yet it doesn’t hold a candle to what it was before.
We end chapter 3 with this very divided response to the temple. The noise is so loud that they can’t tell who is joyful and who is sorrowful. They’ve been waiting so many years just for this chance to rebuild, and now it’s not even clear if it is a good thing or not.
But restoration is a process. Most things that we want, we can get almost instantly. I can drive to the store and get ice cream. I can order something from Amazon almost without moving a muscle, and it will arrive in two days. Way in the future, in the year 2000, we’ll just think of what we need, and it will materialize in our teleportation device. But doing something of significance takes time, effort, prayer, and also probably money. And so does rebuilding Jerusalem. It is tempting to compare back to what things used to be like (the “good old days”) and be discouraged. What we might be missing is that God’s plans and ideas usually break our categories for what we think is even possible.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on BibleGateway here – Ezra 1-3
Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Ezra 4-6 and Psalm 137 as we continue on our
Over the last four years I have done a lot of moving. I’ve moved from an apartment, to a house, to a trailer, back to a house, to my in-laws, and now to my home. Not to mention, I have helped plenty of others move during this time. Despite my many moving back aches and cardboard box forts, I’ve experienced nothing in the moving department compared to the Levites in chapter 3-4 of Numbers. These chapters are dedicated instructions for the Levites about how to live around and move the Tabernacle.
A portion of the third chapter is dedicated to uncomplicated, yet purposeful counting of all the male sons of the Levites a month or older. Remember the Passover in Egypt where God spared the first born sons of Israel while passing judgement over the rest of Egypt’s first born sons? In Numbers 3, we see God take the first born of Israel not to death, but to holiness. Numbers 3:13 says that God is making the Levites “sanctified” to Himself. This word sanctified means to make holy. Instead of killing the first born sons of Israel, God uses them to be mediators between Him and the Israelites. Does this sound like any other first born son to you? Jesus is now the first born son that acts as a mediator between us and God. It is so cool to me that the number of Levite males a month or older and the number of first born sons in Israel are almost the exact same number. God sees the males of the Levites being the ransom in place of the first born sons of Israel. In Numbers 3:39, the number of Levite males comes out to 22,00 and in 3:43 the number of first born males is 22,273. I will draw your attention to the extra 273 first born sons which aren’t covered by the ransom of the sons of Levi. Instead of taking their lives, which is what they would deserve, God only requires the small price of 5 shekels per person. That comes out to a total of 1,365 shekels in exchange for the lives of 273 first born sons. I guess I was wrong in my last post when I joked about Numbers being a math text book. But really, the math should be done from this point on. The point is this: God would rather redeem people than kill people; God opts for mercy instead of judgment. This is just one of the great things about Him that makes Him a God worth worshiping.
Moving on to chapter 4 we again see the detailed and intentional nature of God through instructions He gives the Levites for the Tabernacle. Remember holiness is one of God’s main priorities when it comes to the Tabernacle. We are blissfully reading along in chapter 4, hearing about the job of the sons of Aaron….then we get to verse 15. Things get serious in verse 15. It becomes clear to us that the sons of Aaron took so much caution in covering all the holy objects in the Tabernacle so that when the sons of Kohath come to move the stuff they don’t die! Remember God’s holiness is serious. All it would take for an unclean person to die is to touch a holy object. It doesn’t sound like a simple list of instructions anymore; this is a life or death situation. I thought I had it rough when I had to take the legs off my couch to fit it through the door but at least I wouldn’t die if I accidentally touched it! I like to look at verses 5-20 as the “how not to die when moving the Tabernacle” verses. If you were a son of Kohath, in charge of carrying one of the holy objects, you would be thankful that one of the sons of Aaron did their job well.
Reading though chapter 4 and hearing how the jobs of these different people are broken down reminds me of the body of Christ. We have different positions and skills which allow us to come together and work for God. Moving the Tabernacle in a holy and dignified way was no easy task, so too is serving God and His son, Jesus. It takes a team effort with everyone pitching in to make it a success.
Reading this also gave me another idea. Maybe we should only ask people between the ages of 30-50 to help us move. I should have quoted Numbers 4:3 to all the people who have asked me to move over the years. But in all seriousness, there is one big take away that I see from Numbers chapter 4; it is a lesson taught all over the Old Testament. Keeping God’s holiness and His people being holy are top priorities. We need to be holy as God is holy (Lev. 19:2). That is a direct command from God to us. We see this in how God treats even the moving of the Tabernacle. Holiness is key. When God was setting up the nation of Israel He wanted to make sure that they were going to stay separate from the world, separate from their idol worshiping neighbors. All the laws and rules are supposed to help them stay righteous and holy. Of course, we know that this is an impossible task for us to do on our own. Thankfully, we have a God who understands us and knows that we need help. This is why all of history, all of God’s plans, even back in Numbers with the counting of some Jewish men, was leading to the revealing of Jesus. Don’t think for a second that we are redeemed by accident. God was working out the world to be in such a way that you now, reading this post, have the option to be redeemed and righteous. We might be tempted to skip these boring chapters of the Bible where all we do is read about how many 30-50 year olds were in the household of Gershon, but we would miss out on watching God reveal his plans. Seeing God act with such intentional detail reminds me that God is not too big to deal with our everyday highs and lows. God works in the details of our lives today, just as He did in the lives of the Levites moving the tabernacle.
In keeping in step with the Spirit, we can’t ignore sin. But we don’t just condemn the person either. We are supposed to restore that person. And beyond that, Paul says:
2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Now, this seems a little contrary to what he says just three verses later that each person should carry their own load, but I think it is not. We are responsible for ourselves. But as members of the body of Christ, we can help each other out to make things easier for our brothers and sisters.
The next paragraph is encouraging! Don’t give up – something better is coming!
9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Paul wraps up this book by going back to the topic of circumcision that was causing divide.
15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.
Do it or don’t do it – it doesn’t matter. We are under a new law of freedom now. This may not be an issue that causes divide amongst Christians today, but we can get trapped in other debates about things that don’t really matter. If we are new creations in Christ, we should live like it, in the freedom his sacrifice has given us, giving honor to him and our Father.
Thanks for reading this week – I hope you gained something from these devotions!
In chapter 5 Paul taught that it is not right for those in the Church to judge those who are not in the Church because they are not held to the same standards that we have ascribed to. Similarly in chapter 6 Paul says that it is not right for those outside of the Church to be making judgements on arguments between those in the Church. If we have Christ’s love in us and if we are living according to his wisdom as Paul teaches we should, then we should be able to have reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ without having to go to court. It is understandable that we will have disagreements in the Church, and feelings will get hurt, but Christ forgave the men who crucified him while he was still hanging on the cross. If he can do that then we can forgive the people in our Church. It is a shame on the Church when we cannot be reconciled to each other. When that happens Paul says in verse seven that “you have been completely defeated already”. We know from Ephesians 6:12 that this fight that we are in is against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” and for that reason we need to put on the full armor of God. But if we cannot unite as the Body of Christ then there is no point, we have already lost the battle.
One of Paul’s main goals in his letter to the Corinthians was to bring unity. Many of the situations in Corinth Paul was asking one of the sides to give in graciously, even though they were not wrong, in order to bring peace. Later in chapter 6 verse 7 it says “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” We should seek unity in the Body over being right, or having justice. Jesus’ death was the greatest injustice in the world, and we are called to take up our crosses and follow him, we should not be surprised if we have to endure some injustice along the way.
At first glance it appears that some of the old behaviors of the disciples are creeping back in. It almost sounds like they are saying “we are too good to serve tables.” But we see that is far from the truth. They are actually so busy serving that they are not keeping up with all of their other duties and people are going hungry!
They were actually listening when Jesus said things about the greatest being servants – maybe it kicked in the night before Jesus was sent to the cross, when Jesus got down and washed their feet. Either way, they finally understand the importance of service.
So in light of being overwhelmed with too much to do they take a page out of Jethro’s playbook. (Exodus 18) They realize more work could get done if they find qualified leaders to take over some of their duties. They find 7 people who can take care of serving the tables, which will allow the disciples to focus on their other responsibilities. Specifically, they could focus on their calling – “prayer and ministry of the word.”
While it frees up the disciples it also allows others in the church to be involved. It is important to get involved in your church – to share the load so it is not just a few people overburdened. We each have and bring different talents that make up the body. The church is most effective when all of the body is working together.
Is your church missing it’s hands, feet, ears…etc. because you are not involved? Or is it possible you are too busy doing good things that you are missing out on what God has really called you to?
We have been looking at living our life on purpose – choosing goals that are pleasing to God and then striving to live by them. So far, we have covered the purposes of Worship and Discipleship.
Today, we consider the exciting fact that we are not the only disciple of Christ. Rather, we are a part of a body of believers – the body of Christ. It is God’s desire that we remain connected to the body of Christ in order to be more effective and to better fulfill the 2nd Commandment: love others. This purpose can be called Fellowship.
Hebrews 10:25 gives great counsel to the family of God: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Unfortunately, sometimes the church body fails at this. In a survey of people who have stopped attending church, 75% said they gave up meeting together because they didn’t feel like people cared if they were at church or not. They failed to get encouragement from the body of Christ. This should not be! As disciples of Christ we have a responsibility to each other – to encourage, to listen, to greet, to show concern, to value the other members of God’s family. The church is no place for cliques or loneliness. And each one of us can be part of the solution.
Take a minute today to read Acts 2 (particularly verses 36-47). Look for what the early church was doing together. How were they creating a powerful body of believers that were on fire for God’s truth and a love for one another? What will you do today and throughout the week to strengthen your bonds with God’s family? They need you – and you just might find out you are better off with them, too.