building on the one foundation

According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Let each builder choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If the work that someone has built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a wage. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Paul makes it clear that the one foundation is Jesus Christ. Paul’s presentation of the good news of Christ was given to him by God as the apostle to the gentiles, while Peter at that particular period of time was designated by God as the apostle to the Jews. Too many want to go to Paul’s writings and camp on them to understand this foundation.

Instead, I believe we really need to start at the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And we need to find key texts as well as read through all, considering our Lord Jesus’s life, teaching, works, suffering, death, and resurrection before we go to the ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit and all that follows. Instead of “the Romans road” we need to go to the gospel road found in the gospel accounts, which ends up being the way of the cross and we can call that the Way of the Cross, referring to Jesus who not only set that path in his purposefully taking it his full embrace of the death of the cross for the salvation of the world, but he also made that the path of salvation in which all who name his name are to follow. Mark’s account is a great place to start, though to read them in order is good as well.

Paul’s word in his first letter to the Corinthians are to a church which is not acting according to what they profess to live on, the foundation. They are not building well, whether it’s solely their church leaders, or a combination of leaders and the rest of them, on the foundation, Christ, not well at all overall. Their lives together are to be built on what Jesus taught, how Jesus lived, and in the faith of Jesus as well, a faith of hope and love which sees death as the necessary precursor to resurrection. And love at the heart and outworking of it all. Instead (see the entire chapter through link above) they were caught up in divisions, in worldly ways of thinking, not at all different than what we face today and any day except in its particular manifestations during that time.

According to our Scripture passage, works will be burned, even as the worker themselves are saved. And other works will remain. Works that are of Christ, in accordance with all he taught, commanded (see Matthew 28:18-20) within the very life of Christ given to his followers by the Spirit (see especially John 14-16, etc.).

Paul was writing it to a specific situation (again the link for the immediate context, and good to read the entire letter), and after considering that, we need to look at our own context and situation today. If we keep prayerfully looking together, sooner than later I don’t think it will be hard to see what is of Christ and the rule and life of the good news he brought, and what is contrary to that. This critique of Paul has been needed by the church for at least much of its history especially during certain pivotal times and what followed, and certainly no less so today. The problems of white Christian nationalism along with the failure of discernment to see and acknowledge those who are partakers of the one Spirit, etc., etc. And none of us are exempt from necessary critique which comes from the light of this passage through the light given by God and the Holy Spirit: Christ himself. Together we need to hold on to that for ourselves and for each other. In and through Jesus.

wisdom from God requires full engagement

…the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7b

Job, a classic story, is part of the Hebrew wisdom literature we find in our Bibles. It is steeped in a kind of deep, profound wisdom different from the more straightforward directives and maxims we find in the book of Proverbs. And the book of Ecclesiastes is more akin to Job, looking reality square in the face while simply trying to make the best of that with the strong word in the end of that book to keep the reader and hearer squared.

What I want simply to say in this post is that wisdom from God to us is not only passive in our reception of it, but it requires our full engagement. We need to be active, even proactive, but working through all the present in accord with the wisdom we’re seeking to discern from God. This requires each one of us to be engaged, but it’s best done in community. We necessarily must grapple with it every day in our lives, but we’ll understand and know what to do on a whole host of things much better through other’s wisdom, as well as from those so committed trying to sort through issues together.

This is one major occupation of my life. I am nearly constantly grappling with this and that. Life doesn’t let up, one thing and another will hit you in your face or will become something to keep in mind. Like Job, God doesn’t want us to be passive, thinking that we simply need to keep our mouths shut, and our ears open to receive what God will give us. There will be times for that, but much of the process of receiving wisdom requires our full intelligent, interactive, heart-felt engagement.

Part of the reality in which we now live, as we seek to discern and receive all of God’s help for us. In and through Jesus.

pray on

pray without ceasing…for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:17, 18b

To be told to pray without ceasing seems pretty unrealistic. To be sure, we can’t be praying every moment of the day. Maybe the idea is that along with actual praying, we’re in an attitude of prayer all of our waking hours. Or that it is to be a habit of life that fills our days. For me, I take it to mean that I’m to be much in prayer which includes not only talking to God, but listening and seeking to hear God’s voice, and discern God’s will in it all.

This is addressed to Christians together, so there needs to be an emphasis on corporate prayer, that we’re all in this together. But that includes individual practice, that each of us are involved in playing our part.

I find that two practices are vital for me: being in Scripture with an emphasis on application and personal growth and being in prayer. I honestly think a missing link, all too true in my own life is that insofar as this is possible, we need to be joined together in this.

In my own experience I find that the attitude and practice of ongoing, persevering prayer is so important to keep my head afloat, out of the deep waters in which I lack the breath, light, the perspective and life of God. It is almost like the necessity of applying a magnet so that another piece of metal doesn’t fall to the ground.

The only way I seem to be able to really stay grounded and centered on God and on God’s will is to remain in Scripture, but with persistent, ongoing prayer. When I let up on that, it’s not long before I’ve lost focus and perspective. And what comes out of that is not good. We’re not in a Sunday School picnic. At the same time what also needs to be remembered is that much good comes out of this practice. Not only to help center us, but in actual benefit for others.

As we’re told in the Scripture passage quoted above, part of God’s will for us. In and through Jesus.

taking Scripture seriously

That very night the brothers and sisters sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea, and when they arrived they went to the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there, too, to stir up and incite the crowds. 

Acts 17:10-13

There is a tradition within Christianity among us that among other things is supposed to be Bible-centered. And really when you think about it, that idea in some form has especially been prominent since the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther reacted to the legalism he perceived in his experience in the Roman Catholic Church and understandably read back that experience into Romans where Paul writes that the just shall live by faith. Today we have what is no less than a culture war in which this view of the role of the Bible is supposedly central.

What Scripture is supposed to do, what it’s about is the light of the good news of God in and through Jesus. Details have to be seen in context, an important part of that in the covenants God made with humankind, what Christians call the old covenant and the new covenant. And the main point is the one which can’t be lost. It’s about God’s promise to creation of a new creation in which all the brokenness of creation is repaired along with the reconciliation of all things to God through Christ. Really, when you start to think about it, quite staggering.

Probably to a significant extent because of an engrained modernist enlightenment way of approaching the biblical text, details that may be relevant or not are parsed out and made to be more or less essentials, or at least litmus tests on whether or not one accepts Scripture as something more than just a human book, “the authority of Scripture.” I won’t name any of those issues here. They’re pretty obvious. But I will say that not only is the reading and interpretation sometimes stretched and at least questionable, but I wonder if the main point is being missed or at least pushed to the side.

No one took Scripture more seriously than the Jews in Thessalonica who opposed Paul and Paul’s message of the gospel. At least that is what they all thought, what Paul himself once thought along with them. They were dead set in defending to the letter and even if necessary to the death their interpretation of Scripture. And it turns out that they were after all was said and done, wrong.

The Jews in Beroea got it right because they listened to the gospel presentation from Paul, then sought to discern together from Scripture whether or not it was true. As a result, many of them came to faith. They weren’t hung up on what turned out to be side issues like circumcision in which Paul would at least ultimately contradict what Scripture, the Torah actually said. They were attentive to what turned out to be the main point, the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus.

I would argue that this is what we must be about today. If we work on that, then details will be more apt to fall into their proper place in our interpretation and understanding. And we must try to judge our understanding of side issues in that light. When we do, we’ll find that Christ is central, God’s work in Christ. This will lead us to God, and to God’s good will. And it will help us to discern together where that good news is taking root and bearing fruit.

That in essence is what Scripture is all about. If we’re really to take Scripture seriously, that is the point we will be concerned about. And all else will be seen in that light. Yes, with the work of interpretation of the texts with all the relevant disciplines in play like biblical background studies in culture, etc.

We must take the Bible completely seriously for what it is. Scripture inspired by God to give us the word of truth, yes the saving good news of God in and through Jesus.

the difference maker

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed, it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are obligated, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if we in fact suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:1-17; NRSVue

In and through Christ, God meets us right where we live. Of course, we’re to be active and alert and try to understand how we’re supposed to think, what we should do. Indeed dwelling within us to help us individually and together get through life in a way that is pleasing to God, even pleasing to ourselves and to each other in Christ (Romans 12:2), and ultimately for the good of all.

When we depend on our own spirit, our own thoughts, whatnot, then we’re going to find ourselves lost and burdened, definitely weighed down, because we’ll want to live up to God’s just standards of love in all things, something we’ll not do well enough, or have the discernment to know what really matters to God in the first place, what we should be concerned about or do in any given situation.

The Spirit is the difference maker for us. Otherwise, we’ll likely be in something like a religious mentality in which we’re trying to figure things out on our own. Yes, the Spirit helps us, and often through others in Christ, and at times even through those who make no profession of faith in Christ. The important thing for us to remember is that in this life we’re not left on our own. The Spirit is our needed difference maker, ever present, giving us the assurance that we’re indeed God’s children. And with that assurance giving us all that we need to navigate life. Yes, with our individual situations of course, often through each other, as well as through scripture, in answer to prayer, listening for that “still small voice,” and intent on doing and living in God’s will. In and through Jesus.

understanding what really matters

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11; NRSVue

In this life we can get so caught up, then trapped in side issues, things which are beside the point at least at the time. It’s as easy as getting out bed in the morning and requires no effort on our part, like gravity. Instead we’re to pray for this same kind of love as Paul did here. To help us discern and determine what really matters.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t take responsibility of small as well as large matters, or of things we would rather leave behind and forget. “What really matters” might mean to have the attitude of trust in God; of faith, hope and love through Christ in which we meet every issue, problem and challenge of life.

At any rate, this is part of how we’re to pray, and what such prayer can do for us and through us. In and through Jesus.

being awake and alert to the tricks of Satan

And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.

2 Corinthians 2:11; NRSVue

The context of this passage is almost beside the point here, though it is quite important since it’s a part of scripture. We need to take it into account to receive all that we need to take in. But the point of this post is that we need to be awake and alert to any and all ways that our spiritual enemy might try to trip us up.

To understand this so that we have discernment is half the battle. We then need to by faith take action accordingly. Always in line with scripture, with God’s promises, seeking the help of the Spirit. And as we’re told in the classical spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6 (verses 10-20), taking the stand we need to.

All of this is easier said than done, but it’s necessary that we do it. And God will give us the strength along with the resources, all that we need. Although each instance is probably not going to be that complicated. We’ll know or become aware of what we need to do when we get there. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

 

casting the demon out

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.”

Matthew 12:43-45; NRSVue

Sometimes I think, and it’s beginning to feel settled to me, that often a demon so to speak inhabits institutions, and yes, even families. When one thinks about it, there’s really no family nor institution that is perfect. It might be “picture perfect” in reputation or even in its own imagination. But there’s a brokenness in everything as certain as the cracks that show up on the walls or ceilings of any house.

When I refer to institutions, I’m not leaving out churches. Christ’s presence is what makes up a church, where two or three are gathered in his name. But as we see in the seven letters to the church in the Revelation and elsewhere, the devil can get into the details, into the works. And families, the same. Some are very broken, and some seem to get along remarkably well. But no family is any more perfect than any individual.

But while there’s a sense that there may be some truth in this for any institution or family, I’m thinking of special situations such as we find ourselves in today. There is so much anger, division, and there appears to be little if any hope that anything will change perhaps before catastrophe or the worst part hits, hopefully with some cushion and limited fallout. And hopefully as well, to give the needed realization that change is needed.

If we’re concerned about such a situation, chances are it’s close to us, or we’re somehow involved in it. Like Daniel of old, who from all appearances even in Scripture was blameless and upright, we too need to pray to God, confessing our sin, our part in the problem, be it in family, or any institution. We most definitely need to be open for the Lord’s insight and correction in our own lives, before we can imagine God’s breakthrough in the lives of others.

As we do that, then maybe God will give us the understanding and sense needed to become part of or fit into the solution. And as Jesus said, some do not come out except by prayer and some manuscripts add, fasting.

There’s always hope, even if it doesn’t come easy. In and through Jesus.

what really matters?

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11; NRSVue

I wonder if Mary and Joseph would have done what they blessedly did if they would have been caught up in secondary matters. Maybe being caught up in details that would make no difference in fulfilling the task at hand, to get to Bethlehem to be registered in the required census. I’m sure they took care to help Mary be as safe as possible, along with the baby she was carrying near the end of her pregnancy.

And then came the time for birth. No place in the guest room, so a manger would have to do. Nothing fancy, and certainly not ideal, but what people were used to. But that opens up an entirely different conversation which we won’t go into here. I’ve not even investigated well enough myself. What is apparent might turn our understanding of the nativity largely on its head. But that doesn’t matter for this post.

Paul’s prayer for the believers in Philippi was certainly something God was helping Mary and Joseph with at this sensitive, crucial juncture. What really matters is something we need to be sensitive to, day after day. We can get so easily get sidetracked on nonessentials. I’m supposing that Mary and Joseph were not the kind of people who were easily distracted.

For us this will require God’s help. Yes, prayer, as the scripture passage indicates here. So that we don’t get lost in the weeds over secondary matters. The end result being that God is less encumbered by us to do God’s good work in us, and also so that the good works God has for us to do might be done always in love. The main point the focus while we let go of what really doesn’t matter. In and through Jesus.

don’t go there

And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

2 Corinthians 2:11

It’s always important to look at the context of any particular passage, and the above passage is no exception. It has to do with an issue in the church involving one who needs the kind of help that only the church can give them. The person does respond to the church’s action with Paul’s help (some interpretation, here), and now Paul presses home the need to move past that, not as if nothing happened, but in a wise way in which the person knows they are fully accepted and loved.

Just the same, we can still pull something out of the above thought. Our spiritual enemy is out to trip us up wherever and whenever it can. Yes, at opportune, strategic times, as well. They know our weaknesses, what pushes our buttons, and indeed are active in setting us up for “the evil day” as well. We don’t want to be people who focus on the spiritual enemy. But as we seek to keep our attention on the Lord, we do need to be aware of what they can be up to, so that we can begin to sense and discern that in our lives, as well as in the lives of others so that we can pray for them.

All that said, this simply means that we need God’s help to refuse to take the bait, the allure the enemy drops or sends our way. We need discernment to understand when this is taking place, and to understand how this is developing. And how we may be unwitting accomplices in it.

Don’t go there! Yes, resisting that will amount to resisting the devil. As we seek to keep our attention fully on the Lord, that we may be led by him in all of this. This is a step of faith which may not be easy, in fact will likely be hard, being counterintuitive to us, since we have given into it so many times before. But as we take that step and follow through, God will help us in this. In and through Jesus.

This podcast from Tim Gombis, “Faith Improvised,” only 36 minutes in length (finish it, to get the benefit) was helpful to me on this subject, certainly applying on a host of issues.