Boasting of the Best

2 Corinthians 10-13

We are going through our final chapters in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians!  Thank you for sticking with me through this last week and listening to my ramblings 😊

As Paul is finishing up his letters, he seems to talk a lot about boasting.  Boasting can be defined as possessing something as a source of pride.  Paul is possessing the knowledge of the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and what that means for his sinful life.  He takes pride in the fact that he belongs to Christ, and he wants others to be proud of that too (10:2).  He doesn’t want people to be proud of themselves or their own accomplishments, but only be proud of the Lord and being part of a group of believers (10:17).

In chapter 11 Paul talks about those who do boast about themselves and discusses how at the very most we should only be willing to boast about our weakness (11:30).  In order to be in a position that you are not only willing to share a weakness but are seeking to openly and proudly share a weakness, you must be truly dedicated and excited to be part of that movement.  Paul understood the impact that sharing his weakness, or his testimony, would have on believers because he got to experience first-hand the grace of God.

Paul didn’t always want to deal with the things that created his testimony, he calls them a thorn used to torment him (12:7).  He asked for the things that were difficult for him to be taken away, and Jesus told him “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (12:9).  Paul did not innately know that the things that were difficult, that were shaping his testimony, were going to be used for God’s glory.  But when he learned that his weakness would only more greatly reflect grace, he did not shy away and try to hide or change his weaknesses to present himself as higher than he was to the church.  All too often Christians can feel this pressure to hide the parts of their life that weren’t “pretty” in the eyes of other believers.  But most times, what we have gone through and come out of because of the grace of God is one of the most powerful tools in bringing people to Christ and encouraging believers.  We should be boasting in our weaknesses, in what God has brought us out of, with the purpose of growing and strengthening the Church.

Paul closes his letter by saying this: “Finally, brothers, rejoice.  Become mature, be encouraged, be of the same mind, be at peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (13:11).  Part of becoming mature can include developing and sharing your testimony.  Being encouraged can happen when you share and hear about testimonies from other believers.  We are all of the same mind when we focus on growing and strengthening the Church.  And being at peace comes from knowing that each believer has that same focus.  When we are able to do all of these things, God will be with us and give us His strength to complete tasks we never thought possible. 

We make up the Church, and we are responsible for continuing to grow the Church and keep one another strong in the faith.  Paul’s letters are a great place to start when looking for ways to be part of the Church, but there is absolutely a level of personal communication with God that is necessary to know where He wants you to be.  I encourage you to take time today to reflect on your own testimony and to ask God who He wants you to share this testimony with.  You may be surprised where He leads you!

Thank you all for joining me through the Corinthians!  This week has been a great time for me to refocus on the mission, and I hope it was for you all as well.  Until next time, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

-Sarah Blanchard Johnson

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Corinthians 10-13

Tomorrow we begin a new week reading Acts 20:1-3 and Romans 1-3.

A Quality Church – and Your Part in It

2 Corinthians 5-9

Welcome back!  I felt like these five chapters really covered a lot of ground today!  I will only be touching on part of the message presented here for the sake of keeping it relatively short, so I truly encourage you to find someone in your world to read and discuss with the points that stick out to you!

 One portion of this message that stuck out to me in particular was found in chapter five verse 11: “Therefore, because we know the fear of the Lord, we seek to persuade people.  We are completely open before God, and I hope we are completely open to your conscience as well.”  I really admire this idea of being just as open to other believers as we are to God.  To me, this means sharing our pains, fears, hopes, prayers, and praises with the body of believers we surround ourselves with. 

Paul brings up the idea of being open again in chapter six describing how he wants the relationship between himself and the church to be like parents and children with good communication (6:11-13).  That kind of relationship may look different for everyone, but in general, the relationship that a parent and child have should be based on trust, respect, and love.  Paul is talking about how the relationship we have with other believers should be the same!  To provide an example of this Paul describes how happy he was that Titus had come to visit this church specifically because Titus was refreshed by the church (7:13).  Whether it is to a visiting member from another congregation, someone who attends every Sunday, or someone who may only be passing through, people should leave the church feeling refreshed by their time spent with us. 

Continuing on in chapter eight verse 24 Paul is boasting about this church’s love for others in his letter and encourages them to continue to do what they are doing.  Paul doesn’t say anything regarding the physical appearance of the church, how good the music is, or how young and cool the pastor is.  OK, that may not be applicable to the church in Corinth at that time, but I think you get my point!  What makes a church a quality church is their ability to build up the body of believers, to refresh them, so that they may go out and continue their work.  This is only possible when believers in the church are open with one another and have that relationship of trust, respect, and love.

When you look at your own church, what do you boast about?  What makes you proud to attend?  Do you feel like you can be open with the other believers there?  And if not, I encourage you to dig a little deeper… Paul writes about people who sow sparingly reaping sparingly (9:6).  I think this concept applies to a lot of areas, including what we take away from our own church.  If you are looking for a church where you can find strong connections, yet never attend a Bible Study, you are trying to reap generously what was sown sparingly.  If you are trying to find a church that is energetic and full of life, but you never come with a smile on your face or a praise to share, you are trying to reap generously what was sown sparingly.  If you are disappointed that your church rarely has visitors, yet never invite your coworker, neighbor, or friend to a service, you are trying to reap generously what was sown sparingly. 

Being the church does not just mean showing up on a Sunday morning.  It means being open, it means showing respect and love, and it means being actively involved.  Without each one of us taking part in refreshing one another, the church is just a building.  We are the Church, and we each must do our part to make it all it should be.

-Sarah Blanchard Johnson

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Corinthians 5-9.

Tomorrow we will continue with chapters 10-13.

Not Working Alone

2 Corinthians 1-4

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Paul’s letters!

2 Corinthians is truly written as a letter… almost like a story written from Paul’s perspective to the church.  Although sometimes his message can feel redundant (especially when you have to listen to it from me each day…), it really should be symbolizing just how important that message truly is.  We shouldn’t necessarily be finding new ideas each day, because the ideas should be and are consistent throughout the whole Bible!  We should, however, be finding new ways to take that message and apply it to our own life.

The main message that I took from Paul in these chapters is how this mission that I have been touching on this past week isn’t one that we do alone or on our own strength.  Our mission is one that is fueled by God.  Our words, our actions, and our endurance related to spreading the message of hope and Christ’s resurrection has nothing to do with ourselves.  THANK GOODNESS. 

However, that mission is carried out by us.  In these chapters we are called to comfort, to conduct ourselves in purity, to forgive, to love, and to be bold in our faith walk.  All these ideas require us to act on the experience of grace that we have received from God.  When we carry out these things we can do so with the competence from God (3:5), which means that we aren’t responsible for making things up about grace!  We do not have to distort God’s message (in fact you shouldn’t) for people to come to Christ.  We have to tell people about Christ and let his life do the talking!

Paul recognized that this mission wasn’t easy, he lived through the difficulties of telling people about Christ.  He talks about the importance of spreading joy among believers and keeping the body built up by reaffirming people in love (2:5-8).  He reminds the church of these things because he knows how Satan works, and knows that without joy and love, the Church will be weak (2:11). 

To build the church up, Paul closes with some fantastic verses that I want to reiterate here:

“Therefore we do not give up.  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (4:16-18). 

Being a Christian is hard.  Being a Christian in 2020 is hard.  But we know that everything that is hard in this current life will be nothing compared to the glory and joy that is the Kingdom.  That doesn’t change the fact that life is still hard, but it should change the way we handle this life and give us some joy and love to spread, even when the world is lacking.

No matter where you are in life today, remind yourself about the hope, grace, and joy you have in Christ.  And when someone asks you why you are still smiling despite the chaos, tell them the truth about who gave you that kind of joy.

-Sarah Blanchard Johnson

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Corinthians 1-4

Tomorrow we will continue with 2 Corinthians 5-9.

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.