1 Corinthians 9:1-16 – Showing Tolerance

Tolerance, statue by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely, I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely, he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it even more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (NIV)

A person who cannot tolerate small misfortunes can never accomplish great things.

Chinese Proverb

There is a reason for tolerance. You and I employ it in all kinds of ways and contexts so that we might achieve an important purpose.

Parents of newborn babies put up with a lot from the little one. As a father myself, who has raised three daughters with my wife, I can testify that over the course of many years I have been puked-on, peed-on, poked in the eye, and kicked in places I would rather not discuss. I have patiently helped with homework, taken time out to play with dolls, and stayed up late waiting for teenagers to come home. None of those things ever showed-up on my bucket list.  So, why did I do them?

Yes, you already know that was a rhetorical question with a decisive answer. It is because I love my girls. I would do anything for them. I was committed to doing whatever it took to raise virtuous, fun-loving, well-adjusted, God-seeking, responsible persons. I was willing to put up with a lot to see that happen.

The Apostle Paul was passionate and committed about reaching lost people and raising them in the Christian faith.  He was willing to put up with a lot to see that purpose come to fruition. Paul was determined not to put any obstacle in the way of gospel proclamation.

Paul was motivated by seeing the good news of Jesus Christ take root in people. He did all that he could to communicate the message. Paul had a committed personal conviction to not let his personal rights stand in the way of what was most important.

“Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle.”

helen keller

Mature faith in Christ patiently, lovingly, and deliberately helps others know Jesus Christ better. Mature people will put up with a lot to raise godly disciples. They refuse to let themselves or anything else stand in the way of a young Christian’s spiritual growth. They willingly set aside personal agendas and even rights and needs to see them grow up in faith. They protect and serve, teach, and nurture, all while enduring all kinds of unpleasant stuff.

Tolerance for tolerance sake means nothing. But tolerance purposely used to spiritually form others in Jesus Christ is part of being a devoted follower of God.

Patient God, you know all about enduring humanity’s failings, immaturity, weaknesses, and sins.  Yet, you put up with a lot to see us born again, grow in faith, and become productive Christians.  Enable me to persevere for the grand purpose of seeing others come to discover you, know Christ, and experience the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Come, Follow Me

Come Follow Me by Argentine painter Jorge Cocco Santángelo

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:14-20, NIV)

This Gospel lesson is straightforward with two main points:

  • The call of Jesus on our lives.
  • The message Jesus gave us to proclaim.        

The call of Jesus is to pursue him, and he will develop us. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”  The simple truth here is that this is neither a suggestion nor really an invitation but a command. Jesus did the same with James and John, and all the original disciples.  They listened to Jesus, dropped everything they were doing, and immediately followed him.

I am wondering what would make you drop everything to pursue an entirely new life. I am curious what could cause you to follow Jesus without any conditions attached. I am impressed that Peter and Andrew immediately obeyed Jesus. They did not question Jesus as to whether this was a short-term project or a long-term assignment.  They did not seek a contract with Jesus or ask how he would impact their stock portfolio. 

The first disciples simply dropped everything and left with Jesus. I suspect they followed Jesus for the same reason I originally decided to follow him – because Jesus is such a compelling person, so gracious, interesting, and loving that it was really no decision at all.  Everything else pales in comparison with Jesus.

Read all four Gospels and the book of Acts in the New Testament and you will find that believers in Jesus follow Jesus; and those who do not follow Jesus are not believers.  It really is that simple.  Followers follow, and those who do not follow are not Christ’s disciples.

Jesus calls us, commands us, to follow him and he will make us fishers of humanity. You might be concerned and retort, “I have no idea how to fish for people.” The good news is that Jesus said he would make us fishers of people. Jesus is not looking for people with skills he can use. Instead, Jesus calls people and develops them into fishers. Christ forms people with the ability to follow his call. 

Jesus will train us, which means we only need to answer the call to follow. When I was five years old my Dad took the training wheels off my bike and told me to ride it.  I told him I couldn’t.  He told me to get on the bike and he would run beside me.  I got on the bike and started to ride with him holding it.  When I began to panic approaching a tree I started talking to my Dad.  He didn’t answer… because he wasn’t beside me.  He dropped out from shagging me a long way back.  The same thing happened with learning to swim.  I insisted that I needed to be supported or I would drown for sure. Dad didn’t keep his hands underneath me. Yet, I’m still here – I didn’t drown.

We are not called to follow Jesus based on our skills, but on the lack of them so that Jesus will do in us a work of total allegiance and loyalty to the kingdom of God.  Jesus will make sure to develop the competence we need to do what he has called us to do. We only need to hear and answer the call of Jesus to follow and to make us fishers of people. 

The Fishermen by Cuban sculptor Rafael Consuegra, Petrozavodsk, Russia

The following is a parable about the church and being fishers of people:  “Now it came to pass that a group existed who called themselves fishermen.  Week after week those who called themselves fishermen met in meetings and talked about their call to fish, the abundance of fish, and how they might go about fishing.  They discussed the importance of fishing and that fishing is the task of every fisherman.  They listened to special speakers talk about fishing and they promoted fishing and looked at all the latest equipment for fishing.  They built large buildings called ‘Fishing Headquarters’ so that they could tell as many people as possible about fishing.  They organized boards of people to send out fishermen to other places.  They offered teaching and classes on how to fish and the best and latest fishing methods.  With much training a good many persons got their fishing licenses and became upstanding members of Fishing Headquarters.  There was just one thing that they did not do: they didn’t fish. When one person dared to suggest that those who do not catch fish are not really fishermen, the group became angry and kicked that crazy person out their group.”

The call is not for a few but for everyone to embody and proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. Therefore, we are to repent and believe this good news. Even though this is a simple straightforward message, it deserves some attention because we do not typically use this kind of language. Instead, we tend to say something like “Accept Jesus into your heart and someday you will go to heaven.”  That sort of language you will not find Jesus saying.  So, let’s stick with what he did say.

For Jesus, the word “kingdom” means God’s intentions and will for this world to come true. When Jesus said the kingdom is near, every pious Jew understood. They anticipated a coming Ruler (king) with themselves as the ruled (subjects) and a realm (land).  They thought beyond a mere spiritual kingdom and did not use kingdom as a synonym for heaven. Instead, Christ’s disciples considered Jesus as King, ruling his followers over the sacred space of the entire world. 

Thus, Jesus was saying he is creating a new society, thoroughly biblical to the core – which meant Caesar was not Lord and that people’s loyalty was not ultimately to the Roman Empire.  It is the kingdom of heaven, God’s dream society, which will eventually spread across the entire earth so that the whole world is God’s sacred space, devoted to love, shaped by justice, living in peace, and abounding with wisdom. Jesus encouraged us to pray consistent with this idea by encouraging us to pray, “May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

If we find ourselves not really working toward Christ’s idea of kingdom, then we need to repent and believe the good news that God is working toward restoring all things to their original beauty and luster. “Repent” means a change of mind which leads to a change of behavior. “Believe” means to put all our eggs in God’s kingdom basket.

None of this is a suggestion.  It is a forthright call to follow Jesus in his kingdom building enterprise on this earth. And so, it would be a travesty to just think about the message for a while and follow Jesus if we feel like it or get around to it whenever.

We are being called to live for Jesus continually each day by fishing for people – and to make this our life’s work. Wherever you are, Jesus wants to make you a fisher in your family, workplace, neighborhood, and all the places within your normal sphere of living:

  1. Go where the fish are. Fishing would be easy if we could put a basket by the water and have the fish jump into them! But that is not how it works. Rather, we need to intentionally choose activities that put us in contact with people in our communities.
  2. Cast the nets. Peter and Andrew did more than take their boat out to the middle of the lake. To catch fish, they threw their nets into the water. Here is what I believe this means for us: We do what is fair and just to our neighbors. We extend compassion to them and are steadfast in our love, even when others are unlovely. And we do not take ourselves too seriously—we take God seriously, instead.
  3. Obey Jesus and walk with him. After Christ’s resurrection, Jesus came to some of the disciples, who had fished unsuccessfully all night. He told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat – which seemed like nonsense, but they did it anyway. It brought a great catch (John 21:1-14). During the three years of Christ’s earthly ministry, the disciples did everything with him – they walked, talked, and ate with Jesus. And when he ascended to heaven, they acted on the Great Commission given to them by Jesus to make other disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

May God cleanse our lips and our lives so that we might proclaim the good news of Christ’s kingdom with glad and sincere hearts to the glory of Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.

Acts 22:2-16 – You Have a Story to Tell

The Journey of the Apostle Paul by Russian artist Romanov Vladimir, 2014

When the crowd heard Paul speak to them in Aramaic, they became even quieter. Then Paul said:

I am a Jew, born and raised in the city of Tarsus in Cilicia. I was a student of Gamaliel and was taught to follow every single law of our ancestors. In fact, I was just as eager to obey God as any of you are today.

I made trouble for everyone who followed the Lord’s Way, and I even had some of them killed. I had others arrested and put in jail. I did not care if they were men or women. The high priest and all the council members can tell you that this is true. They even gave me letters to the Jewish leaders in Damascus, so that I could arrest people there and bring them to Jerusalem to be punished.

One day about noon I was getting close to Damascus, when a bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you so cruel to me?”

“Who are you?” I answered.

The Lord replied, “I am Jesus from Nazareth! I am the one you are so cruel to.” The men who were traveling with me saw the light but did not hear the voice.

I asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

Then he told me, “Get up and go to Damascus. When you get there, you will be told what to do.” The light had been so bright that I could not see. And the other men had to lead me by the hand to Damascus.

In that city there was a man named Ananias, who faithfully obeyed the Law of Moses and was well liked by all the Jewish people living there. He came to me and said, “Saul, my friend, you can now see again!”

At once I could see. Then Ananias told me, “The God that our ancestors worshiped has chosen you to know what he wants done. He has chosen you to see the One Who Obeys God and to hear his voice. You must tell everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up! Be baptized and wash away your sins by praying to the Lord.” (CEV)

You have a story to tell. We all do. Your story is as special, powerful, and unique as anybody’s. Every person’s story is interesting, compelling, and needs to be told.

In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Paul, considered the greatest follower of Christ of all time, tells his story. Paul was a Jew, an upwardly mobile mover-and-shaker within his world. He despised Christians and saw them as an aberration to the true worship of God. 

But Paul had an unexpected life-changing encounter with Jesus. It slammed him upside the head like a divine baseball bat. Whereas Paul really believed he was serving God by persecuting Christians, now he came face-to-face with the true reality that he was doing just the opposite – persecuting God!

As a result, Paul did a complete turn-around and experienced a powerful new life. He became a faithful Christian and took the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world. Paul knew something of forgiveness and never got over the grace shown to him.

This chapter of Holy Scripture is a good template for you to tell your own story. As you read Paul’s story, notice that he talked of life before being a Christian; the circumstances that happened for him to believe in Jesus Christ; and, explained what his life after becoming a Christian was all about.

A good, profitable, and healthy practice is to sit down and jot some thoughts down about your life before Christ, how you came to Christ, and what your life after becoming a Christian is like. Let your life-changing Christian event shape the story – whether it was like Paul’s, or a baptism, a church service experience, a family crisis, or whatever it was – the act of writing will help you make sense of your unique and special narrative.

Just as important, tell your story to others. There are people in your sphere of influence that need to hear what God has done in your life. They are in your life by God’s gracious design. You have a story to tell.  Let it out, my friend.

God of new life and new beginnings, I give you thanks for the person you have made me, where you have placed me, and the people you have surrounded me with. Help me learn to soak in your steadfast love and mercies each day. Let me imitate Christ’s humility and practice sacrificial love today, considering others before myself so as to bring you glory. Let me be someone who brings the fragrant aroma of Christ to those who do not yet know you. Let me not limit what you may do through me because of unbelief or fear. Thank you, Jesus, that you even promised that I may do greater works than you because your Holy Spirit lives in me. Trusting in your grace and not my abilities, I will tell my God story to all you send my way to listen. Amen.

Matthew 2:1-12 – Epiphany of the Lord

Star of Bethlehem by German painter Waldemar Flaig (1892-1932)

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back, and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. (NLT)

The Three Kings, Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Each year on January 6 in the Church Calendar, after the twelve days of Christmas, is the celebration of Epiphany. Christ’s coming to this earth as a child and becoming like us is much more than a baby in a manger.  Epiphany helps to bring a vision and understanding of God’s glory to all kinds of people in the world.

Epiphany means “manifestation” or “appearance.” The event which is associated with this season is the visit of the Magi to Jesus. Included in this time of the year between the seasons of Christmas and Lent is a special emphasis on the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus. The great celebration and focus of these weeks is that salvation is not limited to Israel but extends to the Gentiles, as well.

Every season in the Christian Year has its unique angle of grace. With Epiphany, we see that one of the most scandalous truths of Christianity is that God graces common ordinary people who seem far from God with the gift of Jesus. God grants repentance that leads to life for all kinds of people no matter their race, ethnicity, class, or background. It is a wondrous and astounding spiritual truth that God’s gracious concern is not limited to a certain type of person or a particular group of people.

Grace is and ought to be the guiding factor in how we interact with people. Losing sight of grace leads to being critical and defensive. Like King Herod of old, a graceless person becomes enamored with earthly power and control. But embracing grace leads to the humility of seeing the image of God in people quite different from ourselves. Like the Apostle Peter, who learned in a vision to bring the gospel to non-Jews, old legalisms begin to be worn away so that people from all walks of life can have access to Jesus and his gracious saving and healing ministry. (Acts 10-11:18)

Grace brings down barriers and does away with unnecessary distinctions between others. The appropriate response to mercy is to glorify God for such marvelous light and amazing work.

It is a merciful reality that the Magi, or Wise Men, pagan astrologers, were directed to the Messiah. A light was provided to lead them to Jesus. Apart from God’s care and intervention they would have remained in darkness.  And it is no less true for people today. This old broken world is wrapped in darkness. All kinds of people have no light at the end of the tunnel of their lives for hope and new life. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings that light to those walking around with no ability to see. Jesus, in his teaching ministry, exhorted his followers not to hide their light but to let it shine for all to see. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, the best way to bring resolution to our own troubles and problems is through helping others make sense of their lives through the gracious light of Christ so that they can see an appearance, an epiphany, of what their lives can be in the gracious rule of the kingdom of God. 

As we celebrate Epiphany and journey with Jesus through his earthly upbringing and into his gracious ministry to people, let us keep vigilance to not let our light grow dim. Instead, let us hunger and thirst after Christ’s righteousness so that our joy is full, and our light is bright.

God of mercy, Lord of all, you have gifted the Church through the goodness of your grace to be your hands and do your work, to be your voice and share your words, to bring healing to broken lives. You have graciously gifted your people with the blessings of your Spirit, the power to transform lives and make all things new. Now may our hearts receive, our mouths proclaim, our hands prepare for service so that the love that we have may overflow into the hearts of others, and receive your grace, your renewing Spirit, and your love, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.