Making Choices

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Romans 14:13-23 (NIV)

There are decisions in life which can be difficult to make. The choices which are before us may need to be weighed by the impact upon others. On the surface we may determine that one option carries no negative influence for us personally but as we examine the choice deeper, we see there will be a negative impact on others. If we move forward with the choice, we will personally experience no consequences yet this may result in consequences for someone else. The decision creates a dilemma for us.

Paul writes about such a situation. He presents the scenario involving food. He indicates that he does not view any food as unclean. Having this opinion means that he can eat anything he chooses without having it negatively impact him. However, if someone who has an opposite view witnesses him eating perceived unclean food items and it causes the person spiritual distress then he should abstain from eating the food. Paul tells us that we are to always make choices that will be mutually edifying for ourselves and others. These choices should never cause someone else to stumble in their spiritual journey even if the choice is alright for us personally.

The best example of how this might apply to our lives has to do with alcohol. Many of us can consume an alcoholic beverage without a negative consequence. We are able to drink in moderation and responsibly. We do not drink amounts of alcohol which will impair our judgment or cause us to become ill. After consuming alcohol we do not drive until we can do so safely. There is nothing which should prevent us from choosing to drink alcohol. However, a person who has a disease and is unable to control how much alcohol is consumed, an alcoholic, cannot drink even a little. Drinking in front of such a person can lead to the alcoholic assuming it is alright for them to follow your example. The responsible person will have a conversation in advance to confirm if the alcoholic would be placed in a compromising position if you drink. A lot of this has to do with where the person is on the addiction journey. Each person is different. Just because you can, does not mean you should. 

We have been given many freedoms. God has made all things possible for us. Our responsibility is to make sure in the exercise of our freedoms and God’s gifts, we do not cause anyone to stumble. If choosing to refrain from something will help build another individual up, we should choose to refrain.

All Are Needed

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)

One of the great joys of childhood was the fun which was had with a Lego set. Adults have a mixed view of Legos. Some adults still love constructing with a set of Legos. All adult parents hate when they locate one or a few Legos on the floor with their feet, especially at night. Anyone who has enjoyed Legos knows how the various sizes and colors of Lego pieces allow one to create some amazing structures. All the pieces are important if you are going to create a recognizable structure, character, or scene. Few things can be more irritating than when one or two pieces go missing.

In the letter to the Romans, Paul speaks about the importance of each person. First he points out that one person is not more important than another. God has given each person gifts that are important to the one body to which we all belong. Every member has something to contribute which is unique and benefits the whole body. He then encourages each person to use their different gifts in ways which provide the greatest benefit to the body.

These days we tend to think more individualistic than communal unless we are in a time of crisis. This type of thinking seeks benefits for self rather than for others. Arrogance can easily be a characteristic of an individualistic thinker. This passage calls us to have an opposite perspective. We are to realize that while we each have unique gifts, God gives those to us so combined the whole body benefits. Like our Lego creation, each person is needed to create the body which God has planned. We are to bring our gifts together as a community. When we do, the result will be more amazing than anything Legos can build.

Anchored Foundation

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Luke 6:46-49 (NIV)

In our community there seems to be an endless amount of homes being built. We live in a metropolitan community which continues to see a tremendous amount of population growth. Some of this new home construction has been very close to where we live. On my morning walks I have walked by many of these new homes and seen them at different points of the building process. The process is very similar in each build. Everything begins with a leveling of the ground, then a staking out of the perimeter of the home, followed by a more precise leveling within that perimeter. The ground is allowed to sit for a week or more so that it can settle before one final leveling. The next step in the process involves laying of pipes and other aspects of underground utilities. Once all of this is completed and a wood framework of the house isin place, a concrete slab is poured which will serve as the foundation and provide allow for the anchoring of the walls. Then the framing of the house can begin once the concrete has cured.

Jesus speaks of the importance of a foundation as part of  his teaching in today’s passage from Luke. He uses this imagery to emphasize putting his words into practice. The foolishness of people who hear what Jesus teaches but does not use these teachings as the basis for their lives is like a person who builds a house on the ground without a foundation Jesus says. When the storms come, the house is destroyed because it has no anchor. The opposite is true of the person whose life foundation is the words Jesus has shared.

We have been freely given the words of Jesus as presented in the gospels and applied by Paul and the apostles. What to do with these teachings is dependent upon us. If they serve as a foundation for our lives, we then have an anchor which will help us to navigate through and withstand the turbulent times in our lives. If we vaguely recall, or not recall at all, the teachings, they will have little value to us. The storms will come, they always do, and we will be battered and tossed around until our lives collapse into splinters and rubble. 

Reading the gospels and the epistles begins the building of our foundation. Listening to others as they interpret and teach these words strengthens our foundation. Interacting with the Lord through times of prayer and silence, cures our foundation. Be a wise builder by building your life upon the words of the Lord.

United in a Meal

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

1 Corinthians 10:14-17 (NIV)

There is something almost unexplainable which happens when people sit down to eat a meal together. As they gather around a table there is a sense of togetherness which permeates the air. The divisions which may exist between them appear to break down. Language barriers are less of a concern. Strangers become connected. Conflicting views are tempered for at least a brief period of time. The sharing of a meal together can strengthen bonds which previously existed and create new bonds where ones did not exist. This is one reason that experts have lifted up the importance of family mealtimes at a table in the home. It is also why meals are incorporated into meetings of heads of state, corporations, and other diverse situations.

Today, we remember Jesus taking a traditional Jewish meal connected to the Passover celebration and using elements of it to create a meal to remember him. The Christian church used these elements from the meal in their love feasts when the church began. Even now, this is a vital part of the practices of the Church and have become a sacrament within the Church. Jesus knew that eating together was something more than just a nutritional activity.

The passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth speaks of the transforming power of the breaking of bread. He reminds the people that in sharing the cup and bread, they are all sharing the same cup and bread. By this act, they are remembering Christ. They also are acknowledging their unity in Christ. It is the body and blood of Christ which unites us as one people.

Next time you sit down for a meal, whether at home or as part of a worship service, think about how this act impacts the relationships of those around the table. If you are sharing in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, remember Christ and the oneness which this meal creates within those who partake.

Love Undergirds

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Have you ever watched a bridge under construction? The process takes time and can be very interesting to watch. It is good that it takes time because the safety of those using the bridge is important. The process begins by laying a foundation at the base of the support pillars. Then the pillars are put in place. This is followed by ensuring the pillar top is properly cut for the bridge deck. Once those are in place, the ramps for entering and exiting the bridge are constructed followed by the placing of the decking. This is a simplified overview but you get the idea. The main point is that what undergirds the bridge is important for the safety, trustworthiness and usefulness of the bridge.

Paul writes to the believers in Corinth. His goal in what he writes is to stress the importance of love. This passage is often chosen as one of the readings used in a wedding service because it describes love in the context of relationships. However, Paul’s intent was to describe love in a context of corporate relationships. He is telling the believers how they are to love one another as members of a group of Christ followers. Paul says that whatever the believers do or say should have the undergirding of love. It is love which provides safety, trustworthiness, and usefulness within the relationships with each other.

As readers today, Paul’s words ring true for us. Since God is love, it seems natural that love should undergird our lives and relationships. Striving to live into Paul’s definition of love here is akin to living into the likeness of Christ. Every day we must strive for the attributes Paul lists: kindness, without envy or boasting, honoring others, selfless, without anger, not holding grudges, rejoicing in truth, rejecting evil, protecting, trusting, hoping, and persevering. The promise which Paul lifts up here is that love never fails.

Love In Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21 (NIV)

” You’re going to come across people in your life who will say all the right words at all the right times. But in the end, it’s always their actions you should judge them by. It’s actions, not words, that matter.”

Nicolas Sparks

Nicolas Sparks is an American novelist who was born in Omaha, NE. He is probably best known for two of his twenty-one novels, “The Notebook” and “Message In a Bottle.” What Sparks says here is a sentiment which has been communicated in a variety of ways over thousands of years. The idea is that people can say all types of endearing words but only if their actions support those words can they be trusted and believed.

Paul is speaking to the believers in Rome regarding love. Paul instructs the people on how to live out love. He gives a list of behaviors which show love to be sincere. All of the behaviors focus on the good, caring for others and avoiding a revenge mentality.

Most of us have become accustomed to not trusting what we are told. Experiences with politicians, advertisements, telemarketers and leaders have caused us to be skeptical almost all the time. When we are told that we are loved, we struggle to truly believe it and are waiting for the catch. Only by seeing these words in action do we begin to believe them at all.

As believers in Christ, we are commissioned to share God’s love with others. The problem that arises is when we try to communicate the message of God’s love using only words. The skepticism mentioned above makes those words ineffective. We must live out the love of God in our lives. What Paul shares with the Romans are examples of how we can live out the love.

New Life

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

Spring is a wonderful time of year because of all the new life which surrounds us. During winter the fields lay fallow, trees are barren of leaves, and grass, along with other plants, become brown. It is easy to perceive everything as being dead. With the arrival of spring flowering plants shoot out of the ground, buds which will burst out as leaves on the trees, and the green color returning to the grass and plants signal that life now exists where death seemed to reign.

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus with words about death and life. In our sins and transgressions we were dead. We followed the ways of the world and the spirit of disobedience. But God made us alive in Christ because God loves us. God has raised us to the heavenly realms where we sit with Christ. This is grace which has saved us. We have been created and prepared by God to do good works in Christ. In Christ, what was perceived as dead is truly alive.

Like creation gets a new life in the spring, we are given new life. We can put behind us those behaviors of our past which were killing our spirits. Because of God’s love for each one of us, we were not left in death but instead we have been resurrected into a new life. With new life, new opportunities exist. There are opportunities to serve others, establish mutually nourishing relationships, and discover the wonders of God’s love and grace. Embrace this new life given to you in Jesus Christ.

Positive Focus

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV)

There is a lot of negativity in our world. Some sociologists state that since the 1970s the population of the United States tends to view institutions such as the government and the church, as well as life in general, in a more negative way than the generations prior to the 1970s. The same sociologists view the 1960s as the turning point leading us to the negative turn. Events and experiences of the 1970s, and each decade since, have caused people to lose confidence and hope in ever receiving many beneficial influences from anything or anyone outside themselves.

Paul writes a letter to the believers of Jesus Christ in the area of Philippi. Toward the end of his letter, he gives them some final instructions to follow. Our passage today contains those instructions. He tells them to rejoice in all situations. Show their gentleness. Do not be anxious but let prayer be the manner in which they present their requests to God. God’s peace will guard each heart and mind. Their thoughts should focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Paul is directing the people to focus on the positive aspects of life with trust in the Lord.

The advice Paul gives to the Philippians can be solid advice for us today. We are quick to identify all the problems and negative aspects of life. Our ability to identify and articulate everything which is  wrong in the world around us overshadows our attempts to find the good aspects. A recommendation for all of us might be that we reread these verses every Monday morning before we start a new week as our way to help us accentuate the positive in our lives. Some of us may see a need to do this daily instead of weekly.  Whichever method you choose, the message here is to focus on life’s positives.

No Shame

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)

There are numerous aspects of life which can cause people to feel ashamed. Mistakes which we make can bring a sense of shame into our lives. The actions of a relative or friend can bring shame to us. Our perceptions of ourselves can lead us to feel ashamed. In specific situations this shame may be warranted. Often the shame is more embarrassment than actualized shame. No matter the cause or legitimacy of our being ashamed, the feeling is real. We may choose to avoid people and/or situations due to our sense of shame.

In today’s reading, we hear Paul make the statement that he is not ashamed of the gospel, or good news. Others have stated that the good news of Jesus’s death on a cross and resurrection was foolish and nonsense. Those who indicated they believed in the salvation found in these events were often labeled as ignorant, idiots, and even blasphemers. So Paul indicating he was not ashamed and saw the message of the good news as a sign of God’s power is a bold statement. Paul sees the gospel as a revelation of God’s righteousness being displayed and imparted upon those who believe in it.

Are you ashamed of the gospel? After all, there is sketchy logic to support the claims of the good news. Individuals today still reject this news and take a dim view of those who believe in it. Do you attempt to excuse away your belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection when others question you or do you make a bold statement as Paul does here? Some say that religion or faith should not be discussed in public settings, maybe not even in private ones. How often is this used to avoid having to declare belief in God and God’s saving actions? Like Paul, we need to stand and boldly proclaim our belief in the gospel without any sense of shame.

Foolishness

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (NIV)

Over the centuries, humanity has gained all types of knowledge. We have developed systems to teach and communicate this knowledge to new generations. With an increase of knowledge, an arrogance has come into our human psyche. Many have determined that anything which cannot be explained by what we know is foolishness. This has led to the development of very concrete thinkers. Knowledge has become a power chip in our game of life. Knowledge, in and of itself, is not an issue. How we use knowledge and how we apply it to life can become a problem.

Paul is writing to the group of believers in Corinth, Greece in what we read today. Greece has long been considered to be one of the birthplaces of science and philosophy in the ancient world. The Greeks prided themselves on their knowledge. Often they considered other civilizations to be primitive and ignorant in comparison to themselves. Paul states that to many the actions connected with the cross were foolish. These people believed that Jesus dying on a cross served no purpose and was a waste. So here, Paul says that God has made them look foolish, not those who believed in Jesus’s saving actions on the cross. The wise, according to Paul, are the individuals who believed in and trusted the events of the cross. These can boast in the Lord who defined true wisdom.

Are you like the unbelievers in Corinth? What does the cross mean to you? Can knowledge and the cross beheld together in our grasp of wisdom?

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  – I Corinthians 2:2