Week 05

The Way of a Witness

Am I not free [unrestrained and exempt from any obligation]? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our [risen] Lord [in person]? Are you not [the result and proof of] my work in the Lord? If I am not [considered] an apostle to others at least I am one to you; for you are the seal and certificate and the living evidence of my apostleship in the Lord [confirming and authenticating it].

This is my defense to those who would put me on trial and interrogate me [concerning my authority as an apostle]: Have we not the right to our food and drink [at the expense of the churches]? Have we not the right to take along with us a believing wife, as do the rest of the apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas [Peter]? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to stop doing manual labor [in order to support our ministry]?

If we have sown [the good seed of] spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share in this rightful claim over you, do we not even more? However, we did not exercise this right, but we put up with everything so that we will not hinder [the spread of] the good news of Christ. 1 Corinthians 9: 1-6 and 11-12 The Amplified Bible

It seems strange that Paul would have to defend his authority as an apostle because he chose to freely give up his rights to be supported by the church for preaching the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But, considering the societal mixture of the Corinthian church, it isn’t surprising:

The Romans were the power and, possibly wealthy, people. They would expect a preacher to exercise their rights to be paid for preaching.

The Greeks were the intellectuals and likely looked down on anyone who worked at manual labor (making and selling tents) in order to support themselves as preachers of the gospel.

The Jews would not have been so upset, because it was customary for rabbis to have an occupation by which they earned their support.

Paul is showing this immature, divisive group of people a different way of responding, to freely give up their due for the good of those who had come, and might come, to Christ Jesus through the gospel message. Though he hadn’t directly mentioned it yet, he was beginning to teach them that the way of Jesus is LOVE, and what love is like.

I am grateful that we now have the scriptures they didn’t have, and that we can move around in scripture to find how Jesus lived the gospel. We now can learn what Paul wrote in the epistles about God’s love and how to learn to live in the way of love.

In Colossians 3:12-14 Paul conveys this love.

So, as God’s own chosen people, who are holy [set apart, sanctified for His purpose] and well-beloved [by God Himself], put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience [which has the power to endure whatever injustice or unpleasantness comes, with good temper]; bearing graciously with one another, and willingly forgiving each other if one has a cause for complaint against another; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so should you forgive. Beyond all these things put on and wrap yourselves in [unselfish] love, which is the perfect bond of unity [for everything is bound together in agreement when each one seeks the best for others]. The Amplified Bible

Ponder and pray over the devotionals this week that encourage us to live in the way of Jesus with his heart. I’ll be praying for God’s blessing on your life as you go through your week!

The Way of a Witness2022-10-08T23:00:39-06:00

Turning the Other Cheek

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12 NIV

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. I Corinthians 6:7-8 NIV

The Corinthian church displayed its immaturity by various members taking each other to court. Paul expresses frustration with them, and says, “you have been completely defeated already,” I Corinthians 6:7. Some Corinthian church members are behaving like they are young children, disputing over whose toys were who’s in the sandbox. It is a natural human reaction to want to retaliate against someone who has wronged us, hurt us, or offended us. But Paul is trying to change the Corinthian church members’ thinking. He wanted them (and us) to live out the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus – in how we treat those who are our enemies or those who offend us.

Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36 record Jesus’ teaching on how we are to treat other people who we may view as our enemies. Retaliation has no part in Jesus’ teaching on this subject. The principle I see in these passages is “generosity”. Jesus encourages us to freely loan to others, to offer more than was asked for, and to bless and pray for those we may see as our enemies. Jesus calls us to be merciful as God has been merciful to us – to be willing to forgive and not to retaliate – as God has forgiven us.

Sometimes I find these teachings difficult to actually carry out. How about you? I do think we Christians cannot actually do this in our own strength, because if we relied on our own strength, we would be just like the Corinthians, fighting over who took what toy in the sandbox. But God has called us out of the sandbox; he has called us to maturity, to grow, to become more like His son Jesus in our ability to love other people. Paul said, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” I Corinthians 6:7b. The Corinthians were insisting on their rights and on being right, instead of being willing to forgive, to extend mercy, to turn the other cheek.

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:6-7 presents many of Jesus’ teachings on how we as Christians are to treat each other in the Kingdom of God. Take some time this week to read through the Sermon on the mount in one sitting. Notice which part seems impossible to you. Pray about that. Ask for insight, ask for direction, and sit at Jesus’ feet and listen.

Turning the Other Cheek2022-10-08T22:40:34-06:00

Settle Matters Quickly

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:23-26 ESV

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 ESV

America’s Founding Fathers established a government system of laws patterned after ancient Rome and Greece. As you become acquainted with the multitude of federal, state, county and municipal laws, codes and regulations that have proliferated since then, it will boggle your mind. The other aspect of these laws, codes and regulations is, as administrations change, more changes in law occur. Yikes!

This expansion is so out of hand that in 2011, Harvard University professor Harvey Silverglate wrote a book entitled “Three Felonies a Day”. Silverglate’s book hasn’t had the impact he hoped. Organizations or individuals are devising more laws and bringing more criminal lawsuits than ever to settle trivial issues or simply punish someone they don’t like.

As you read the above words of Jesus and Paul, this trend is nothing new.

Have you been tempted to settle a relatively trivial matter with another follower of Jesus by calling your lawyer and dragging the matter into the public square? The above passages urge us to settle those issues quickly and keep them “in the family”.

There are gnarly, deeply serious issues that require the benefit of secular court proceedings so they may not inflict immense damage to the reputation of Christ’s body – but those issues tend to be rare. Jesus and Paul are not talking about murder and criminal sexual misconduct.

There are various reasons for the Church to have elders in any local body. If you have a dispute you can’t work out with your fellow believer, take it to those elders. Settle it before things escalate (to a World War Something status).

Don’t wait and let your problem with your brother develop into a Hatfield–McCoy situation.

There is every indication that consistent failure to settle family disputes results in what today is termed a dysfunctional family. Failure to address issues quickly also results in corrupt practices.

Read the above passages again. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you. If the Spirit reminds you of a problem you have been ignoring that you have with another Christian, ask for guidance in moving toward a settlement without a lawsuit. If you know of an unresolved situation between two other Christians that’s getting ugly, prompt them to bring it before an elder in your church (you may be that elder) – or a wise Christian if the two aren’t attending the same church.

Settle Matters Quickly2022-10-08T17:49:56-06:00

When the Rubber Meets The Road

I saw a short documentary once about the discrepancy between sports fans and sports heroes. Some sports fans are rather vocal about how they want the players from their favored teams to perform. They zealously express their commentary on Twitter or in comment sections of various other platforms. In this documentary, the producers would challenge fans who had publicly mocked an athlete’s performance to see if they could perform any better than the athlete. It was rather funny to see these outspoken fans attempting to achieve the essential skills of their favorite sport. They left the experience with far greater respect for the athletes they had once mocked.

It can be easy to treat the doctrines of Christianity in a similar way. We hear Jesus’ teachings and may applaud them, but living them out is often more complex. The book of First Corinthians is one of the first examples of Christians trying to figure how to apply Jesus’ teachings in the real world. When you read Paul’s instructions to this church about “lawsuits”, you are not simply getting instructions for the church today; you are seeing him wrestle through how the “way of Jesus” applies to such matters. The lesson for us today is to be ruthlessly committed to using the teachings of Jesus in our everyday lives. Theology shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. It is only credible if it is true to how God has made the world to work.

Practice applying your faith in everyday life this week. Do you have a project you are working on? Is there a decision you need to make? How do you think Jesus would advise you to make the decision? How might the “way of Jesus” inform the effort, method, or focus of your project? Let’s not become couch potato Jesus fans who never live out what he teaches.

When the Rubber Meets The Road2022-10-08T17:38:11-06:00

A Word On Singing At South

Today isn’t exactly a Devotional, I am sorry. Instead, we wanted to publish an episode from our Midweek Podcast about this week’s subject. In this video, I share many of the reasons why we choose to sing the way we sing at South Fellowship Church. I know it’s much longer than the content you usually read here. On top of that, This particular Podcast episode is longer than usual. I apologize for that but I thought it was content that could help you understand why we do things the way we do them.

If you like these kinds of conversations, you can subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast service or find the video version on Youtube each week. We talk about the previous weekend’s sermon every week.

A Word On Singing At South2022-08-19T10:20:48-06:00

Invitation to Rest With Jesus

Are you listening to me? Really listening? “How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, ‘We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.’ John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a boozer, a friend of the misfits. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” (Matthew 11:16-19) MSG

Next Jesus unleashed on the cities where he had worked the hardest, but whose people had responded the least, shrugging their shoulders and going their own way. “Doom to you, Chorazin! Doom Bethsaida! If Tyre and Sidon had seen half the powerful miracles you have seen, they would have been on their knees in a minute. At Judgment Day they’ll get off easy compared to you. And Capernaum! With all your peacock strutting, you are going to end up in the abyss. If the people of Sodom had had your chances, the city would still be around. At Judgment Day they’ll get off easy compared to you.” (Matthew 11:20-24) MSG

Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work. (Matthew 11:25-26) MSG

I have also learned from Matthew, chapters 4-10, the context for what Jesus was talking about in Matthew, chapter 11, that led to his invitation in 11:28-30. All that Jesus did and taught, and the increasing resentment of the religious leaders, helps me understand and welcome Jesus’s invitation to be, “yoked” together WITH him, learning the, “unforced rhythms of grace” in my everyday life.

Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. The is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of the Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen. (Matthew 11:27) MSG

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30) MSG

In April 2005, I had the privilege of being the main speaker for our South Fellowship Women’s retreat, and I spoke on Matthew 11:28-30, using the more familiar “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)

As the term “yoke” is unfamiliar to most of us, I researched and learned:

  1. Yokes are intended to hold a pair of animals side by side in order to make it easier to pull something than it is possible for one animal to do.
  2. As each side of the yoke is custom made for the animal that wears it, the yoke cannot be worn by any other animal without causing pain to that animal.
  3. Young calves are paired and trained to work together as they grow. By the time they are full grown, they will have had up to 15 custom made yokes created for them.

I am still learning, sometimes through the consequences of trying to overload my days, or by making decisions without waiting to hear Jesus say to me, ‘Yes’ ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ before he and I move together. Sometimes he simply tells me to “stop, sit and listen” to him conversing with his Father in Matthew 11:25-26, and John 17, and to what the Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1-17. These are some of the scriptures that I take rest in.

Take some time to read for yourself Matthew 25-30. Sit and listen as Jesus tells you tenderly that he longs to live “the unforced rhythms of grace” in your everyday life WITH him.

Invitation to Rest With Jesus2022-08-02T13:09:24-06:00

Sabbath and Rest

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” Deuteronomy 5:12-15 NIV

I am challenged by this week’s topic – Sabbath and rest. I watched a video by Walter Brueggmann on keeping Sabbath. He would define keeping Sabbath as – setting aside one day a week in which we do not focus on productivity, where we stop “work”, where we rest, slow down, listen – so that we can receive from God. I find this difficult to do (as I imagine many of you do too), and I was challenged to see if it might be possible for me to change my schedule, my habits, and strive to do this for myself.

I found many passages in the Bible that talk about the benefits we can enjoy if we set aside a Sabbath day.

” ‘If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’ The mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)

Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:3-4) NIV

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2) NIV

These passages speak of delighting ourselves in God, in his word, in keeping a day of rest. The Jewish people were told to keep Sabbath as a sign to the world that they were God’s people: it was a defiant act; it declared to the world that God would provide; the Jewish nation did not need to work 7 days a week. We have the same God; He will provide for us as well.

Read Isaiah 55. Look at what God asks us to do and what He promises to do for us. Use this chapter to read, slow down, listen and receive what God is saying to you about how you keep Sabbath.

Sabbath and Rest2022-07-30T11:24:19-06:00

The Challenge of Stopping

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord . Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'” – Exodus 31:12-17

If you had to choose one spiritual struggle Americans have more than any other, it might be that of the Sabbath (rest). Capitalism has driven many a person into workaholism. Why is it so difficult for us to rest? Many people struggle not finding their identity in what they accomplish. “We live to work rather than work to live.”

The text above outlines God’s command to his people to observe the Sabbath. In his ministry, Jesus would later explain that “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. (Mark 2:27). This day of rest was God’s gift to humanity. It was intended to remind us that life isn’t only about what we produce. It was designed to help us remember that we don’t make the world spin. These truths are a massive gift to the soul.

I have struggled to observe any kind of Sabbath for much of my life. I always thought my hobby was working. I enjoy working. I love the work God has given me. If I’m honest, some of the reasons I enjoy working are that I get affirmation from people for my work. I feel more valuable in the world because of my work. This strategy for life is sustainable until one can’t keep up anymore because of burnout or a mistake made, or because someone better at this job shows up. If your whole identity is wrapped up in your ability to outperform everyone, every day, forever, your soul is in a precarious position.

Sabbath is a gift from God to humanity to remind us that the world’s weight is on his shoulders, not ours. It’s a reminder that he loves us even when we produce nothing. If you take a day off, the world keeps spinning, you keep breathing, and God sustains it all.

One way I have learned to practice the Sabbath is to play disc golf. I realized that working wasn’t a good hobby, so I decided to embrace this simple sport as a real hobby. Disc golf isn’t productive. No one cares if I am good or bad at it. I will not make a career out of it; ultimately, it’s a waste of time. It is for these reasons that it is valuable to me. When I play a round, I enjoy the physical exercise, God’s creation, and the reality that God loves me even when I’m not in the office doing something.

Try wasting some time this week. Let God speak to you through the process. “Perhaps” your shoulders are not strong enough to hold up the world; let sabbath remind you of that.

The Challenge of Stopping2022-07-30T11:00:23-06:00

Entering the Presence of God

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.” – Psalm 4:8

God loves to offer his children rest and peaceful sleep. It’s a repeated theme throughout the scriptures (Psalm 95:7-11, Matthew 11:28, Hebrews 4:1). This kind of peaceful rest comes by entering the presence of God, because God’s rest is an extension of himself.

It is in God’s presence where we feel and deeply know God’s unconditional love. When we enter God’s rest, he eases our anxieties, he illuminates what’s true, and he welcomes us with belonging and identity. In God’s presence, we can hear God more clearly and we can sleep more peacefully. This is wonderfully good news!

Here’s the bad news. The writer of Hebrews discusses the theme of rest in the negative sense. Based on the resistance and rebellion in the Israelites, the author concludes, “we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). Interestingly enough, this author is suggesting we can know who is not walking by faith because they have failed to enter a state of rest.

Many who call themselves Christians have heard the good news of salvation. Many have accepted the truth that they are sinners in need of extravagant grace and believed in their heart that God’s grace is sufficient to redeem their wrongdoings. Unfortunately, many still fail to enter God’s rest. They fail to enter God’s presence to receive the fullness of his loving kindness.

If you make your faith a transactional gift of eternal life, but fail to enter God’s presence of unconditional love, you may need to heed Hebrews warning and return to God’s presence today. Use this liturgy for resting to begin your return journey today.

Lead me to your rest, dear Lord. Lead me to your rest.
Lead me into being and becoming, laying down my urgent tasks.
For even you rested on the Sabbath.
Lead me away to quiet places, leaving the company of friends and family.
For even you withdrew to solitary places.
Lead me to be still and know you are God, loving you more than created things.
For with you, I lie down in safety, my weary soul can breathe.
Lead me to your rest, dear Lord. Lead me to your rest.

Entering the Presence of God2022-08-06T10:02:41-06:00

Our Universal Condition

About 15 years ago one of our family members accompanied a coworker from another country to receive treatment at Denver’s National Jewish Health Sleep Center. The coworker hadn’t been able to sleep for over a year. As a result, he had developed severe disorientation leading to mental health issues. Besides the insomnia this man experienced, the Sleep Center treats at least six other major sleep conditions (including ones such as narcolepsy/sudden sleep) that have negative impact on health.

Researchers have determined that 7 to 9 hours of daily sleep is required for all adult humans. How each one of us gets that sleep varies. (I take naps when my night gets cut short.) Some of you have first hand experience with sleep disorders that have caused chaos or diminished energy either in your life or the lives of loved ones. Regular sleep and proper rest are a blessing from God.

Here’s the first mention of sleep in scripture:

So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib. (Genesis 2:21-22)

God’s work while Adam was in this unconscious state made Adam’s life complete. What a benefit! Here’s another insight from Solomon elaborating on God’s purpose in hard wiring humans to need sleep:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
(Psalm 127:1-2)

The ability to sleep peacefully comes from deep trust and dependence upon the One True God who genuinely cares for us. After we have done what He has called us to do – no more and no less – we can, like every other human who has ever lived, relinquish control as he manages the world in our absence.
So tonight (maybe sooner) just before you drift off, thank the Lord for his gift of sleep. Then consciously leave your cares with him for that 7 to 9 hours.

Our Universal Condition2022-07-27T12:40:47-06:00
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