Today we find the story of Paul...or Saul. Saul was relentless in his persecution of followers of Jesus. He killed many of them. And He did it to 'honor God.' It is always interesting that people kill other people, and do so claiming that it is an act of love toward God. Where have you seen that in the history of our world/our country? Where have you seen people destroy other people's lives with slander, verbal abuse, etc and claim to love God? (That is a side discussion, but if it interests you, check out Greg Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation.) Despite Saul's persecution of Christ's followers, God called Him to become a spokesman, a man on a mission, a major player in the story God was writing in the world. Many times, we fail to act on what God is moving us to do because we know who we are. We know that we're not good enough or that we've made too many mistakes or that we don't have all the answers. So we leave God's work to the paid professionals. This story from Acts is a reminder that God can work through anyone who is willing to follow. What part of God's story is He inviting you to be a part of? Are you in?


Unsung Heroes Luke 23

This passage is too powerful to pass up. It is one of the darkest moments for humanity, the crucifixion of Jesus. The corruption, evil, mockery, and injustices that brought this murder about are very evident in the verses leading up to this event.

Yet as I read the story this morning I was filled with hope.
Not because I know how this story ends, that Jesus rises from the dead, conquering sin and death. And not because I know that this had to happen, and Jesus ultimately let it happen.

I was filled with hope because of the compassion of a few people in this dark story.

In verse 27, we have a large number of people still following Jesus, and women who mourned and wailed for him. In verse 40, on the cross, we have a criminal making statements to defend Jesus against another who was hurling insults. In verse 50, we have Joseph of Arimathea taking care of Jesus’ body and burial. Joseph was a member of the Council, and had not consented to their decision to crucify Jesus.

It is like Luke wants to remind us that some humans that are still good. In the midst of tragedy and evil, some still stand up for what is right. Even when others have deserted, mocked, and destroyed Jesus; there will be the few that stay strong.

I hope that we find strength and hope from the story of the few who stayed next to Jesus. And in this story, the loyalty is found in a criminal, a Pharisee, and a group of women.


The courage it takes

Wow, there's a lot in this chapter.  From Zacchaeus, to  the parable, to the Triumphant Entry.  Now, I'm the shortest one in the office and I'm the children's minister...I feel compelled to talk about good ole' Zach.  We know the story.  We sing the song.  But sometimes, we loose the impact over the years.  Zacchaeus was a much hated man.  Despised by most it appears.  And yet, Jesus sought him out AND spent time with him.  

OK, time for a personal story.  I was in eighth grade and at a school dance.  I noticed that Wayne was crossing the room and headed my direction.  "Oh no" I thought as I anticipated his next move.  You see, Wayne was not the most well thought of kid in the eighth grade.  He did not dress well and his personal hygiene left much to be desired.  He wasn't the brightest by far: poor grades and worse attendance record.  We were pretty sure that smoking cigarettes was the least of his vices and, in eighth grade terms, he was just kind of "gross".  And here he was headed my way to ask me to dance.  Yep, that's what happened.  He asked me to dance along with many others who had turned him down.  I looked at him as a myriad of thoughts swirled through me head.  
"People will so make fun of me."
"I cannot do this."

What?  What did I just say?  I couldn't say no to someone who had always been kind to me.  There was no reason I couldn't dance for one song.  I knew it was the right thing to do.  And you know what?  It was gross.  And people did make fun of me, even my own close friends.  They couldn't believe that  I did that.  Their torments nearly ruined the whole dance for me.

This is one of the closest experiences I have to the Zacchaeus experience.  While Wayne did not have a complete turn over of his life, I did learn what it cost sometimes to stand up for the underdog.  This lesson helped lay the foundation for many similar opportunities that were to come.  By high school it became easy for me to help those who were being teased, or mistreated, and rarely contemplated what affect it would have on my life.  Ironically, in my adult years I think I have become much more conscientious about who I talk to and hang around with.  

As I read the story today, I wondered who I would be more like.  Jesus, who went straight to the person who needed Him most, or the crowd who judged them both.   I prayed to have eyes that see people as Christ does and the courage to treat them the same way.  What lesson did you draw from today's reading?


The urgency of the search

Last Sunday in The Alley we focused on the story of the prodigal son from the point of forgiving those you love.  However, as I read Luke 15 again today, I was moved by a different perspective. While the father watch diligently & hopefully for his son to come back, the son's return was of his own doing.  The verses that precede this story speak of intentionally searching out what is lost.  

Have you ever lost your child in a store?  Once, I had Ethan and my niece in the Rain Forest Cafe gift shop.  She was much younger, so I was holding her hand and giving her most of my attention. In a split second I looked up and couldn't see Ethan anywhere.  I yelled his name several times with no response sending me into instant panic mode.  Now, in that moment, nothing else mattered outside of finding my son.  Thankfully, he was on the other side of a giant pile of stuffed animals in his own little world and did not hear me calling his name.

I will never forget the urgency I felt.  I had to know where he was right now!  As I read the first part of Luke 15 today, I thought about who in my life was lost.  How much time have I spent searching out friends or family who are lost?  Matt said Sunday that if we pray for God to open the door for relationship, He will.  Tuesday, God opened a great door for Megan and I with a classmate and her mom.  As the door opens to that relationship, may I feel the urgency to seek what is lost.  To do more than build a friendship, but to help someone find their path that leads to a Father who is waiting with open arms.


Holy Cow...

Luke 12 brings it. There is no beating around the bush here. Here are some pieces that may bring conviction...or inspiration...or reminders.

12.8-10: Perfect follow up to Sunday's message. Followers fish. Period. We love Jesus and it should be natural that we talk about Him with others.

12.16-21: We are foolish to build kingdoms here on earth. What a waste of time for us to work hard and simply horde what God has blessed us with. It will all be gone in the end. Invest what you've been given for God's Kingdom.

12.42-48: See above...we better use what we've been given for good.

12.49: Tough passage to understand. But here's the deal - Jesus is either at the center or He's not. If He is, it causes division with the ways of the world. If He's not, we have division within ourselves.

You've got to love a passage packed with conviction and truth first thing in the morning. What jumped out at you?


The Sermon on the plain

In Luke 6 we have another famous teaching of Jesus, yet it is not recognized as much as it’s parallel passage in Matthew 5-7. I have heard some scholars say, that this was not a one-time sermon for Jesus, but he actually taught it quite at bit. We see something similar to this today with our famous teachers and speakers, they will have a great sermon and they travel and speak to different crowds with it. Usually it will end up in a book. Who are some of your favorite speakers? What sermon series have had a huge influence on you?

Compare Jesus words in Matthew 5:3-12 with Luke 6:20-26. What are the similarities? What are the differences? Why do you think Luke tells the story of the sermon a little bit differently?


the Spirit

I love chapter 4 of Luke. It sets the stage for Jesus' ministry. He reads a passage from Isaiah, and then is kicked out of his home town. Notice the passage Jesus reads from Isaiah. What did Jesus come to do? If we are the body of Christ, how are we continuing in that same mission?

One more question for you overachievers... How many times does Luke write about the Spirit or Holy Spirit in the first 4 chapters? Why do you think this is?

Come on...join the discussion. May the Spirit be with us as we strive to preach the Message of good news to the poor, announce pardon to prisoners..........


Christmas in August

It is weird to read the first few chapters of Luke this time of year, but many things jump out at me. Luke is such a brilliant writer, and every verse is loaded with detail and meaning. I love the story in chapter one when the messenger Gabriel appears to Zechariah.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth live a life that honors God. They grew up with a rich heritage, have given their lives to serve in the temple, and follow the commandments blamelessly. But (that’s a huge BUT) they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well along in years (vs. 7).

And then… an angel of the Lord appeared to Zachariah (v. 11)
And the usual thing happens when people in the Bible see angels. (Zechariah was gripped with fear the angel said, “Do not be afraid.”) Then the angel goes on to tell him his prayer has been heard, he will have a son, and he is to name him John. He will be great in the sight of the Lord. Check out the list of things Gabriel says this son of Zechariah will do (vs. 14- 17).
And now it is Zechariah’s chance to talk, the culmination of his prayers have lead to this point in his life. God has answered him, more clearly than any of us will probably ever hear from God. God has given him a new direction and purpose. And Zech’s response:

“How can I be sure of this?

I am an old man and my wife is well along in years (a polite way of saying she is really old too).”
This was not really the response Gabe was looking for, and check out what happens in verses 19-20.

Have we heard this type of story before? (Genesis 18, Genesis 30, I Samuel 1) Do you think Zechariah being a priest has heard this kind of story before? So why do you think his initial response is to doubt?
And has God ever answered your wild prayers, the ones you are almost scared to pray because you do not think they will actually be answered?

Have you ever come face to face with a new calling or direction that God has given you and your initial response is to doubt?
I feel like Zechariah, in that sometimes God becomes too familiar to me, and when something happens out of the ordinary, it makes me extremely uncomfortable.
How is God surprising you right now, and how are you responding?

Because sometimes God gives us things when we least expect it. And that is why it would be like receiving a Christmas present in August.


Gearing up for Luke

Hey Everyone,
We have been on a little break from posting this last week.
Monday we start the Gospel of Luke. We have already read through Matthew and Mark this year, so it will be fun
to study and compare Luke's style. Matthew, Mark and Luke compose the Synoptic Gospels.

If you have not been following the readings or have fallen behind, this is a great jumping on point.

Spread the word.

I heard we might even have a new person posting next week
(oow a twist)


Sierra Prieta - Day 2 - from Marcie Doe

Today we ventured to Sierra Prieta in the morning. This is the community that MMCC will partner with through FH. Once we got out of the town of Santo Domingo the drive changed drastically. It was green countryside, trees with huge leaves, hills... beautiful. We even passed a Phillies and Mariners "training center". The boys liked that.

We met with the leaders of the community in the school as soon as we got there. So many people showed up. They are so excited to get a partnership started through FH. The school building is for primary grades (through 4th). Many children stop attending after that because it's a 2 KM walk to the 5-8 grade and high schools. They are desperate for a school that can hold the 5-8th grades and eventually a high school. The government will provide teachers if they have a school building. Several of the community leaders were 16 year old boys. One of them spoke up right away about the need for a high school. It's encouraging to see the youth so involved and actually setting an example here. They also have two small churches in the community. Sierra Prieta has about 500 kids... approx. 300 families .

After the meeting we each got the chance to meet our sponsor children.

We're off to Pizza Hut for dinner in Santo Domingo :).

Day 1 - from Marcie Doe

Hola! We made it safe and sound to DR. We were delayed in Miami. All loaded on the plane and sat at the gate for 2 1/2 hours because a couple tried to smuggle their dog onto the plane. Really? They had a small dog in their bag and the pilot noticed it. They were escorted off the plane and then they had to find their luggage under the plane and remove it (international policy). So... that was fun.

Our group coordinator down here with Food for the Hungry (FH) is Martires. He's spent a year up in the states and his english is great. So helpful... apparently four years of high school Spanish and another in college isn't quite enough. :)

Today we went into two communities that FH has been working with and met with their leaders. FH has been with the first community (Magara) for two years. We got to see one of their summer class programs in session... they teach Bible to a group of students in a small, small "classroom". The children were studying Luke intently. Absolutely precious. When we asked them for one thing they've learned one little girl said (in Spanish:)) "That when we pray we can talk directly to God" Not gonna lie... there was a tear in my eye. Then we walked around the community. I'll post some photos next entry so you can see, but the homes were small... sometimes they had a door. There is a river that runs by the community (some boys were cooling off by skinny dipping so us ladies kept our distance) but when it rains all the area/homes that we walked around are completely under water. Most times they don't have any warning and lose everything only to start over after the waters drain. When we asked why they lived keep going back they said because there's no where else to go.

The children here are beautiful.. something about the girls' eyes. They're a deep dark brown and many have an almond shape to them. Stunning.

We ate lunch a little further in town at a little chinese place.. yea, I know right? It was kinda like Panda in our world. It felt safe. :)

FH has been in the second community (El Tamarindo) a bit longer (7 years I think). We started at the school (pictures to come) and met with their community leaders. They told us about what they're doing and why and told us what they need. We walked around the school which was actually really nice compared to what we had seen up until then. There were 4 classrooms on the bottom floor and another three or so on the second. They get 700 kids through there in a day... 700. They have two sessions and I still have NO idea how they do it. It would be interesting to see it during the school year when the kids are actually in school. Then we drove to a local church and met Pastor Antonio and his wife. They are doing amazing things. They met up with FH in 1998 after Hurricane George demolished the area. FH came for relief and was able to stay and create these relationships. Their church is tiny and they get about 250 in on a Sunday and recently did a VBS and had 500 kids! They've actually made a hole in a wall and added a concrete slab outside with a tarp and people still come. They shared how up until FH came, the church worked only within itself and now they work to serve the whole community. That's the reason for the growth.

We're back at the hotel for tonight and we'll be going to Sierra Prieta tomorrow. That is the community MMCC will be working with for the next 5-10 years. We will also be doing home visits with our sponsor children, so we'll get to meet Sandra! Exciting! Will hopefully keep you posted and have more thoughts later.

Please continue to pray for our safety and for God to continue revealing what He's doing here and how we can take part!


Dominican Republic

Day 1.5 in the Dominican Republic was great. We spent the day visiting some communities where Food for the Hungry has been active over the past 2-5 years. It is amazing to see their vision of a wholistic Gospel. I can't wait to tell you more about it. These communities are on the edge of Santo Domingo, the capital city. The living conditions are horrible. Seeing the children in these conditions breaks my heart. We'll talk more about this on Sunday. On the drive back, we saw the old city, where Christopher Columbus landed and established a city. Tomorrow, we head to Sierra Prieta. I'll try to post some pictures at mcdowellmountainchurch.com in the next couple of days.



A couple of years ago, my accountability group took on Philippians for a month. We tried to read it every day. We tried a few different ways of studying and assimilating the material. One of the exercises that I found very helpful had to do with two highlighters. We took one color and highlighted everything that God has done or will do. With the other color, we highlighted everything we are supposed to do or think or feel or be. It is an interesting way to look at Scripture. Let's try to get a running list going - list everything that God has done or will do. Then, tomorrow, we can list everything that we are supposed to do.



What's your favorite verse from Philippians? Why?



Sometimes I choose not to post because I don't have a lot of great insight. I almost chose not to post today. But I feel as thought the Spirit needs to reiterate something to each of us. It is a promise that is so important for us to hold onto:

And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.

There are times I feel like a complete failure - But He who began a good work in me will continue it...

There are times I fall into the same sin again and again - But He who began a good work in me will continue it...

There are times when I feel like God is distant - But He who began a good work in me will continue it...

Be reminded that He is still working in you. When you feel as though God is distant and doesn't hear you, know that He is there, listening and working in you. He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. A few times a week, as I tuck Calvin, my 4 year old, into bed, we sing the following song. He thinks it is for him...but I need it just as much.

He's still working on me.
To make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars,
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be.
'Cause He's still working on me.

(and, as a side note, you can't get any cuter than Calvin singing the word "Jupiter")



Joy. Paul had it. He was in prison. He had opponents who wanted him dead. He had given years of travel and sweat and tears to spreading the Gospel. He was tired. But he had joy. This letter gives us a glimpse of joy that is not circumstantial and joy that can only be found in Jesus Christ. I love what Eugene Peterson writes about this book:

"Happiness is not a word we can understand by looking it up in the dictionary. in fact, none of the qualities of the Christian life can be learned out of a book. Something more like apprenticeship is required, being around someone who out of years of devoted discipline shows us, by his or her entire behavior, what it is. Moments of verbal instruction will certainly occur, but mostly an apprentice acquires skill by daily and intimate association with a 'master,' picking up subtle but absolutely essential things, such as timing and rhythm and 'touch.' When we read what Paul wrote to the Christian believers in the city of Philippi, we find ourselves in the company of just such a master. Paul doesn't tell us that we can be happy, or how to be happy. He simply and unmistakably is happy. None of his circumstances contribute to his joy: He wrote from a jail cell, his work was under attack by competitors, and after twenty years or so of hard traveling in the service of Jesus, he was tired and would have welcomed some relief."

May you and I grow from reading these words. May we see joy in a new light. May we know joy at a deeper level. May we move beyond circumstances. May we find joy in Christ alone.


Armed and ready

The armor of God didn't make much sense to me as a kid; I had a hard time understanding the purpose of it all.  And, what good is head knowledge of God's Word if we can't apply it to our lives?  Over the last few years I've have gained a greater understanding for this armor and an appreciation for wearing it daily.  

A couple of  years ago Ethan became quite intrigued by the armor of God.  I assume it's a boy thing, but his intense interest led him to memorize the whole armor very quickly.  However, it stopped there.  So, for Christmas he received an Armor of God board game.  In this game you draw "battle cards".  Each card has a scenario in which you either received a piece of armor or lose one.  For example, the card reading "you get a brand new Bible for you birthday, but you never bother to read it" also tells you to give back the Sword of the Spirit.  On the other hand, "You are tempted to cheat on your test, but you don't" gets you the Breastplate of Righteousness.  We also thought it was fun to just read the cards and try to guess which armor you would earn from each situation.  

Let's do some grown-up battle cards:

You pray for protection and God's presence throughout a difficult situation.

You are not ashamed to tell non-believing family members why you love to follow Christ.

Your boss asks if you are done with a project.  You are not, but you know it will look good if he thinks you are done and you will be by the end of the day anyway, so you say "yes".

So, you gained your Shield of Faith and Helmet of Salvation, but you lost your Belt of Truth. Now, what does a little kids game really have to do with our reading today?  Because this game made me wonder how many of us really apply the armor of God to our lives.  Can we translate each piece into our everyday living? Let me end with one more story.

My mother-in-law is one of the most patient, loving, compassionate people I've ever met. While I realize some of that is her God-given personality and demeanor, there is much more to this. While sharing with our Thursday morning women's Bible study a year ago, she told us that every morning she put on the armor of God.  Before her feet hit the floor she verbally talks through each piece and lets God know she's ready for the day.  And, if she knows a certain piece of armor could be in greater use that day, she gets specific: "Lord, I fit my feet with peace as I know I will be spending all day with Sue who is a very difficult person" or "I know this meeting will be filled with confrontation and I will need to speak the truth, so I put on the Belt of Truth today Father."  

I suddenly realized why there had been a soldier dressed in the armor of God on the bathroom mirror in my in-law's  bathroom for as long as I had known them.  She can't just recite the pieces of armor, she knows what they are for and puts them on every day so she can use them to follow and fight in the path of Christ. I had gotten a little lazy in strapping on my armor each day.  So, today I will put on this armor before I leave, knowing that without Christ I cannot attain or display Truth or Peace or Righteousness or any of these qualities.  As the battle rages daily both in the Heavens and in this culture on earth, I thank God that He gave us all we need in Him to not just survive, but win!


Submit and Love

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

If you are a husband or a wife, you know that this is a tough one. This is not easy to do, is it? This passage is inscribed on my wedding ring, as a reminder to how I am called to submit and love Robin, my wife (she put it on the ring because she knew that I would forget...). There are a couple of things that I have learned over the past 11 years with Robin - principles that have helped me to better submit and love her.

1. I am not called to submit to her out of reverence for HER, but for CHRIST. If I was called to submit based only on her actions or out of respect for her, I would, at times, be off the hook. Because she isn't perfect (although she is very, very close), I would have an out on the whole submission thing. BUT, I am called to submit out of reverence for CHRIST. This means that there is no out. My submission to her has nothing to do with how she responds to my love or how she treats me - my submission is based entirely on what Christ has done for me. My call is to submit to her no matter what may come up - no matter what hiccups we face - because Christ gave everything for me. When I remember this, it makes it much easier to submit again and again and again and again to her.

2. This passage says that I am supposed to be willing to lay down my life for Robin. Now, if push came to shove and it was my life or hers, I think it would be fairly easy for me to step up to the plate and give up my life. The odds of that happening are slim to none (and I think I just saw Slim walk out that back door). BUT, there are plenty of habits, hobbies and attitudes that I may need to be willing to lay down for her. DANG! When I said those vows 11 years ago, I thought I would have all the benefits of marriage AND get to keep doing everything I did as a single college student. Marriage involves sacrifice, and there were/are certain things that I need to lay down, just as Christ laid down His life for the church.

What does it mean to submit? Practically, what does that look like in marriage?
So, are you submitting to your spouse out of REVERENCE for CHRIST, or have you been submitting to your spouse ONLY when s/he deserves it?
Husbands, what hobbies, habits, attitudes, etc do you need to lay down for your wife, just as Christ laid down His life for the church?
What might change in your marriage with a couple of adjustments in your perspective based on these passages?



Just have to blog tonight's conversation with my kiddos. It was awesome. This morning, we read Ephesians 2 (yep, we were already behind). Connor recognized one of his memory verses from this past year - For we are God's masterpiece... Tonight, I asked if they remembered anything that we read. Here's the conversation:
Calvin: "Yes."
Me: "What do you remember?"
Calvin: "Something."
Connor: "My memory verse: For we are God's masterpiece..."
Me: "So, what does that mean?"
Calvin: "I know."
Connor: Picks up a piece of chalk and proceeds to begin a piece of artwork on the chalkboard. "Calvin, It is like......"
Calvin: " I want dad to tell me."
Me: "Just listen for a minute."
Connor: "Well, Calvin, you know how sometimes you paint a bunch of stuff on a piece of paper at school?"
Calvin: "Yeah."
Connor: "That is like, your masterpiece. And God is saying that you are like that - you are his piece of art."
Calvin: "Oh. I'm hungry."

I just love the simple truth of scripture -- simple enough to be understood by children. And that is often missed by me. Enjoy Ephesians. May you find the simple truths...

Done. Now live.

Ephesians is a letter that can be divided into two main sections. Section one contains chapters 1-3 and section two contains chapters 4-6. Chapters 1-3 are built around knowing “what is the hope to which he has called you” (Eph. 1.18), while chapters 4-6 are built around living “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Eph. 4.1) In other words, chapters 1-3 are speaking toward what God has done through Jesus Christ and chapters 4-6 contain the call, the instruction to live in light of what God has done. John Stott says it this way: the writer “turns from exposition to exhortation, from what God has done (in the indicative) to what we must be and do (in the imperative), from doctrine to duty…from mind-stretching theology to its down-to-earth, concrete implications in everyday living.” So how are we to live in light of what Christ has done?

Paul's first order of business is to speak toward unity in the church. He wants to begin by building a foundation on Jesus Christ alone. It is obvious that there are many gifts, many personalities, many preferences, many __________(fill in the blank) when you gather many people together. But in the midst of those differences, there must be some commonality, there must be a single foundation and focus. How many times does Paul use the word 'ONE' in chapter four? Why do you think that is?

Go back and read Jesus' prayer in John, chapter 17. Do you see any connection here?

Here's the deal - God has given the church the responsibility of carrying/displaying/living the message of Ephesians 1-3. The most important truth people can know has been handed to the church. You and I carry the truth that holds eternity. We are a part of the most important thing going on in the world today. Unity is essential - it is a non-negotiable.

Where have you seen unity in the church disrupted? What happened? How can we, as a local church, better unify ourselves in carrying this life-giving mystery?

When apostles pray.

I am constantly inspired by the prayers of the Apostle Paul for the people in the many churches to which he wrote letters. And in Ephesians 1:17 we find a prayer that might need to be repeated every day. I wanted to form my sermon around this prayer this week but decided to take a different approach. But the prayer is simply this:

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”

The Greek word for wisdom is “Sophia” which would make a great name for a girl ☺ (Strongs 4678). Now, there are two forms of wisdom Earthly and Heavenly (James 3:13-17). Please read how Paul contrasts the two, in 1 Corinthians 2. As you read the James and I Corinthians passage, what do you think is the importance of this type of wisdom?

The Greek word for revelation is “Apokalupsis” (Strongs 602). It literally means to take off the cover, to reveal, or to lighten. It appears in Romans 16:25, Ephesians 3:3 and it has something to do with a mystery. What do you think is the importance of this type of revelation?

As we reflect on wisdom and revelation, let us come to know Christ better. Let this prayer for the church in Ephesus become our prayer, and let us be more in tune with the Spirit and what it has for us today.



The Backstory

As we prepare for the reading of Ephesians this week, I think it would be good to start out with Acts 19 and 20. This tells the story of Paul’s interaction with the people of Ephesus, the riot he caused, and his sad farewell. Paul had a great relationship with the church in Ephesus and spent about three years with them.

We will be diving deep into Ephesians, I hope you find in refreshing.



Some scholars say that we see in Revelation not progressive events, not events that continue on and on, but parallel events, various pictures that describe the same events. Look back over chapters 6-8.5. Then look at chapters 8.5-10. Do you see anything that could be taken as parallel? How do both of these sections end?

At the beginning of Revelation 9, there is a picture of a star falling from the sky to the earth. And this star is given the keys to the great abyss. In Revelation, stars seem to represent angels. Here is a passage from Isaiah:
How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!

You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.

I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”

But you are brought down to the grave,
to the depths of the pit.

Is this a reference to what we are reading in Revelation? What do you think it represents?

Remember, if you find yourself confused, you are in good company. To be honest, there are many things I read here, then read commentary from scholars, and still find myself confused. Revelation is not an easy read. But hang in there - there are some great pictures yet to come...



Most of us probably understand that many of the things we are reading are symbolic representations of something. The difficulty lies in knowing what these things represent. In chapter 7, we read about 144,000 people who are sealed. Is the number 144,000 symbolic or literal? Jehovah's Witnesses believe that this is a literal representation of how many from their own will be in heaven. Others say that this is a symbolic representation of the many Jews who originally followed the ways of Jesus. I think understanding a little more about the common views of Revelation may help us. There are 4 main views of Revelation held by scholars:

1. Preterist - A preterist interpretation of Revelation says that the prophecies held within this book have already happened. A preterist would say that the judgments we are reading about happened shortly after John wrote this letter. Proponents of this view look at Jesus' own words in the Gospels (Mark 13, Matthew 24) as a parallel to these prophecies, predicting the destruction of Jerusalem.

2. Historicist - A historicist interpretation sees Revelation as a picture of all that will happen during the church age, our current age. Proponents look at the judgments we are reading about as happening between the first and second coming of Jesus. They would say that we are living somewhere in the middle of these very things. Historicists look at many world events as the judgments we read about.

3. Idealist - An idealist interpretation looks at Revelation as completely symbolic. Proponents say that these are spiritual lessons for the church and thus can be seen as happening again and again throughout history. They would say that there are spiritual lessons for us, just as there were spiritual lessons for 4th and 5th century Christians. They believe that this book gives a powerful picture of the spiritual warfare constantly being waged in this world.

4. Futurists - A futurist interpretation looks at Revelation as something that will one day, literally happen. Most futurists are dispensationalists. Most futurists are premillennialists. Proponents say that there will be a great tribulation, which is described in Revelation. They believe in a rapture of true believers, followed by the tribulation, followed by a 1,000 year reign of Christ on the earth.

Obviously, there are significant differences in the above views/interpretations. BUT, it is important to remember that the different interpretations are not essentials in theology. There are probably, within our own church body, those who would hold to different interpretations...and even a mix of the above interpretations. Though we may have some differences in how we read Revelation, we are united in our faith which is rooted in Jesus Christ alone. We do not know what the end will look like. We do not know if these things are completely literal or completely symbolic, or a combination. We do not know when and where and how. We read, we interpret, we listen, we even debate, but we do not know with full assurance. BUT, we hold on to Christ with our lives. We place our faith only in Him. This is a great reminder that living out the Gospel, living out the teachings of Jesus, loving others with no strings attached, is vitally important in our world today. No matter the view you and I hold, may we live our lives as a sacrifice, may we give ourselves to the mission of love, no matter what may come.


As the seven seals are open, we realize that these are events to transpire on earth.  There seems to be much agreement that these are sequential events as they coincide with Jesus' teaching in Matthew 24: 1-35, Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 21: 5-33.  Go and read these passages.  They are almost identical to each other and give depth to today's reading.

In Matt's blog the other day he spoke of the tendency to focus too much on heaven and the life to come.  Likewise, there are people consumed with watching for the end times.  It has been used to strike fear into unbelievers and to guilt sinners into repentance.  And, our culture's media has done a great job of reducing end-time believers into sign holding lunatics who walk the streets ranting and raving of what's to come.  For me, personally, that has caused me to swing the other way, to not think of it much at  all, and focus on Jesus' words that tell us that no one knows the day or hour that all of this will occur (Mark 13:32, Matthew 24:36).   However, neither is the right approach. 

What are we to do with these signs given in Revelation 6?  I believe that answer lies in the verses I referenced in the beginning of this blog.   Jesus says to "watch out that no one deceives you," "Be Alert!," "Be on Guard," and "Watch!"  Now my first thought was that this sort of behavior will have me way too focused on the end of the earth not the live on the earth. But Jesus doesn't say that this is the only thing we are to do, he says "watch" and "be alert".  I can best equate this with being a mom.  There are times in my children's life where I have obsessed with their safety at the pool or a park, focusing only on them to the extreme.  At the end of that trip, I am exhausted and are left empty of great experiences with my children.  I think most of us would agree that this doesn't mean I send little ones off by themselves to encounter the world alone and hope for the best.  As with anything, there is balance.  I try to experience, enjoy and live out moments with my children, while still aware of their presence--watching them to make sure they are accounted for and safe.  

I believe that's what Jesus is trying to get us to do.  Live our lives with an awareness of what is to come.  Be watching for deception and know that a time will come when life on earth will be excruciatingly difficult; knowing what's to come allows us to prep for that.  And, I believe, does help take away complacency.  Being alert and on guard is an action.  It requires us to be aware of something other than ourselves.



I believe one of the shortcomings of the church in America over the past 100 years has been our tendency to focus, to fixate on heaven. That may sound a little strange, being that we do hope for a future day when things will be set right, when God's Kingdom will fully come. But as the church, we have often spoken of the Gospel, and what Jesus accomplished as only having a bearing on what happens when we die. It's as if we are to simply sit back, pray and hope for that day, while trying to get as many others to do the same. Don't you have a deep seeded sense that there is more to the story? Don't you long for something different today, here, in our world? I think chapter five gives us just a glimpse of something more.

God is holding a scroll, which could represent His-story, the story of the world. Imagine that this scroll contains exactly what God had planned when He spoke our world into existence and breathed life into Adam and Eve. Think back to the Garden of Eden. Whose role was it to carry out what God had intended? It was humanity's role, right? But because of humanity's choice to walk away from God's intent, everything changed. Now, when John, in Revelation 5, looks around and sees that no one can open the scroll, could it be that all of humanity has walked away from God's plan (some would say that all of humanity has sinned)? God could open the scroll Himself, but that would be undoing everything He had originally done. A human must open the scroll. Enter the Lion (I know, a lion is not a human...but the lion represents Jesus). Jesus is worthy to open the scroll. Look closely at what was sung when the Lion, Jesus, opens the scroll:
"For You were slaughtered, and Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." (go back and read Isaiah 53 next to this passage)
Jesus ransomed humanity. 2 Corinthians says this: "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ." You and I have been made right with God through what Christ accomplished on the cross. Most of us have heard this message, and to some extent, we get it. But has Jesus done this only so that we can go to Heaven when we die? I think there is more. Keep reading in Revelation...the song continues:
"And You have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth."
Here is the beauty of this passage and this vision from John. Because of what Jesus did, because we have been made right with God, the scroll (God's story, the story of the world we live in) is being opened. And if God's purpose was for His ways to be known in our world today, here and now, and if God's purpose was for humanity to live out and spread His Kingdom in the world, who is it that can do this? You guessed it...the church. We are the ones who are to write God's story, to write His-story, in this world. Heaven isn't just about the future - you and I are to bring Heaven into our world today. The scroll has been opened by Jesus, the Lion. And because of the righteousness we have through Christ, we are to be "a Kingdom of priests for our God. And [we] will reign on the earth."
This chapter is a beautiful picture, and a challenging call to live the reality of the Kingdom today, wherever we are, whatever we may do, for the time we have life. Yes, there is a day coming when our present lives will slip away, and we have a hope for resurrection because of Jesus' resurrection - but there is too much to be lived here and now than to just sit back, hope and wait.

So...what do you think?


Wake up!

Rev. 3
Sardis is located in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). It was also built into a cliff forming an impenetrable citadel for protection. In the ancient world, the people of Sardis bragged that they could never be conquered. No army could scale its cliffs and walls. The people of Sardis were completely “safe”.

Around the 6th Century BC, the powerful Persian Empire went to war with Sardis. The Persians attempted to destroy the city, but could not even make a dent in its defenses. Tradition has it, one day a Persian scout saw a Sardis guard drop his helmet from the high walls. A short time later the scout saw the guard emerge from a crevice in the bottom of the cliff and retrieve the helmet. The scout realized that there was a hole in the wall, and a secret passageway into the city.

That night, the scout led a group of soldiers into the crevice and up the wall. They found the battlements abandoned, for the Sardis guards were all sleeping, trusting that their walls would keep them completely safe. The Persian force swept through the city and opened the gates to allow their main force in. Sardis was destroyed. The guards were caught sleeping, and the enemy brought destruction.

This sounds like a silly mistake for the people of Sardis to make, but they had become complacent, and dependent on their walls for protection. The crazy thing is, about two hundred years later, the Greeks led by Alex the Great; conquer Sardis in the same way. The climbed up the crevice and found the guards sleeping. History repeated itself.

So John is writing a letter to the church in Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6), and he has this message for them, “Wake up!” It would have been a loaded statement. He said, “I know your deeds, you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.”

For the people of Sardis, they would have taken this message quite personally; they knew the history of their city. When you fall asleep, the enemy comes in and destroys. John warns them that spiritually, they have fallen asleep.

When we understand this passage, we take to heart the warning of John. Wake up!
For when we fall asleep, then enemy comes in to destroy us.

In what ways have you fallen asleep? In what ways have you become complacent?


the churches

I remember the day my dad told me that he grew up in a home that shared a telephone with 10-15 other houses. I just scratched my head, unable to grasp what that must have been like. My life, my experience gave me no frame of reference to understand what he was saying. To some extent, I get a similar feeling when reading Revelation. Anyone else get a similar feeling? Anyone else want to admit that they shared phone lines too?

In the next couple of chapters, Jesus addresses seven different churches. What jumps out at you? Do you notice a pattern? As you read through them, it isn't too hard to pull out something applicable to us. I'd be interested to know what you sense as applicable to us as a church body.

We live in a culture that offers us everything. And if we are honest, we tend to pursue much of what the world offers. I don't pretend to know what the city of Ephesus was like in the ancient world, but from what I can gather through historical and Biblical data, it seems like it was a pretty happening place - a place that offered people just about anything they could want. It almost sounds like where we live. Notice what Jesus says to the church there: "You don't love me or each other as you first did." I wonder if that early church found themselves falling into the traps of the culture...the things, the stuff, the activities that promised so much. I wonder if we fall into that trap too.

I don't think I've ever said this... but I want Jesus to be the central love of my life. I don't want to love my stuff or my hobbies or my money more than I love Jesus. And next to Jesus, I want to learn to love you - this community - more and more. This world, the world that you and I live in has a lot to offer....but none of it compares with the life we find when we love Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Diving in

My delay is posting today is not just due to our internet being down most of the day.  I have to admit there has been some procrastination on my part to dive into Revelation with you.  I have studied this book several times in my life.  In high school, my Sunday school teacher was infatuated with the events in Revelation and we spent an entire year working our way through it. The culmination was a movie depicting end time events primarily from the perspective of a pastor who was left behind because he never really believed what he'd been preaching for years. So, unfortunately, my first exposure and reaction to Revelation was fear and doubt:  How will I know my belief is real? Am I saved enough to make it through the rapture?  While God works good through everything and used those questions to began my journey in making sure my relationship with Christ was mine to own, my first real dance with Revelations left me a little wobbly.

Since Darin and I have been married we have studied this book of the Bible with our jr. high Sunday school class, in an adult Bible fellowship class, and on our own in personal study.  We've studied, debated, questioned, but foremost in all of the studies, we sought God.  Sometimes I walked a way with a clearer understanding and sometimes more questions about the symbolisms of a particular chapter, but always searching for a deeper understanding of God and what this book means to my Walk.

As I began to read and get a little nervous as to what I would write about the first chapter from John, I prayed that prayer again.  The dictionary definition of "revelation" is:
"a.The act of revealing or disclosing. b. Something revealed, especially a 
dramatic disclosure of something not previously known or realized"

As we embark on this message revealed to John through the Spirit, let us keep our focus on Christ and what is revealed to us in these words.  God is allowing us to get a glimpse of His power, majesty & might.  I love the descriptions John gives us of Christ coming in on the clouds and the how descriptive he is of the the "one" sent to give him this vision.   I don't know that I will ever be of great help in figuring out the meanings of every picture, every verse, but I walk away today with a reminder of how Glorious our God is.  To grow deeper in our faith, we must always be searching out who God "was", recognizing who He "is" to us today, and looking forward with urgency and anticipation for the God "who is to come."


It's the end of the world as we know it...

On Monday, June 15, our reading turns to the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation has been a source of debate for hundreds of years. Today, there are scholars who read this book, this letter from John, and fiercely debate its meaning and purpose. Because these scholars contest the meaning, it causes interesting reactions from Christians. There are some believers who chose to run from this book and want nothing to do with it. They are so confused by the debate that they decide to skip it altogether. There are other believers who decide Revelation is the key to understanding the future, and ultimately, the return of Jesus. They decide to skip the rest of the Bible and plant themselves here - in an effort to discern the hidden meanings, dates and signs. I don't believe either of these approaches is the best for us. I believe we must read Revelation as a part of God's Holy Word, and work to not read our own theology into it. Let's allow God's Word to speak to us rather than trying to speak our words into it.

Some orienting data-
Author: John, who has been exiled to the island of Patmos
Date: some scholars date this letter before AD70, but the majority of scholars believe it to be written around AD95
Recipients: a group of churches in the Roman province of Asia (modern day western Turkey)
Emphasis: an encouragement to those who currently suffer for their belief in and faith in Jesus Christ; a picture of our world moving towards God's plan - His Kingdom fully come; the end as a restoration of the beginning (Genesis 1-3)
Key Themes:
  • The Trinity - God, Three in One
  • God Almighty - God will ultimately bring all things under His ways.
  • Our Holy God - God is holy, perfect and complete.
  • Our Coming King - Jesus will return to bring full redemption and take His place as King of all kings.
  • Our Righteous Judge - God will judge and will grant to humanity what we have chosen.

May you and I open Revelation with wonder and awe. May we allow it to shape us rather than us working to shape it. May we walk away with a new vision of who God is and who we are in Christ. And may we live differently today, here and now because of God's Spirit within us.


Follow Jesus, save a goat. Heb. 9

About the time of Abraham, many religions were floating around which we think of as oppressive, archaic, and quite frankly, brutal. In order to appease the gods, humans would go to great lengths of sacrifice. One popular religion, the worship of Molech, required that followers would sacrifice their firstborn son as a sin offering (google “Molech” and be horrified). The cult of Molech comes and goes throughout the Old Testament. In fact, many pagan religions of antiquity required such a sacrifice to appease the gods.

This may be why Abraham was not surprised of God’s demand of him in Gen. 22:2; everyone else’s god required this. God tells Abraham to take his son whom he loves (which is the first time the word “love” appears in the Bible) and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. And of course, we know how the story ends… God provides a ram in place of Abe’s son for the sacrifice. This is an important story in the big picture of the Bible. This is a story about a God who does not require you to sacrifice your firstborn son to appease him but provides a different sacrifice. For people in Abraham’s day, this would be “good news” for obvious reasons.

And God takes it a step further, he sends his son, “whom he loves” (check out the similarity of these phrases when God speaks in Matt. 3:17 and Gen. 22:2) into the world. John the Baptist identifies Jesus as “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29.

This is not a story about a god who demands humans to sacrifice their firstborn to appease him. This story is about a God who sacrifices his son for us. This is a story about a God who pursues us. This is a story about a God who initiates our salvation, a God who jumpstarts restoration. This is a story about a God of love. And that is good news.

And that, maybe, is what she is trying to get across in Hebrews 9 and 10. All of the blemished rituals we use to try to get to God are now obsolete because God has come to us through Jesus.

For an amazing explanation of the book of Hebrews and of Christ’s sacrifice, watch Rob Bell’s “The Gods Aren’t Angry”


Mel, Abe and Jesus

Remember today that the author is working on an argument that presents Jesus as superior to anyone the readers have considered being sent from God. The author presents Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest in Jerusalem during the time of Abraham. To a Hebrew reader, Abraham was one of the great Patriarchs of the faith. He was a very important man in the history of the Jewish nation, and he was sent from God. In Genesis, we find that Abraham, a great man of God, paid tithes to Melchizedek. Melchizedek then blesses Abraham. At first glance, we may think that the author is just another pastor who is getting ready to take up an offering (insert chuckle here) ... but the author is once again brilliantly building a case for who Christ is. Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek, showing that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham - and Abraham's family line...which is the priesthood of the Old Testament (the Levitical priesthood). If this Old Testament law and priesthood would have been sufficient, God would not have needed to send Jesus, a new priest. God did send a new priest, and because of this, everything must change.

Read verses 18 and 19 again. The Old Testament law did nothing to perfect humanity - it only made us aware of the sin in our lives. The new system, the new priest - Jesus Christ - has taken the place of the old and has the power to reconnect us to God Himself ("and this is how we draw near to God"). The author finishes this chapter with another beautiful picture of what Jesus did for us. Read verses 23-28 again. What is Jesus doing now? What did He do on the cross? And what difference does that make for you?


Hebrews 6

First, let me confess that I've been prepping VBS all week, so my study on Hebrews 6 is greatly lacking. However, as it contains verses 4-6, I wanted to at least start a discussion. When I first read these verses I thought "this must be one of the passages that causes the 'can you lose your salvation?' controversy." The few commentaries I did get to read seem to lean toward an understanding of this section as the writer is talking to/about unbelievers who have heard the Truth and know of it, but have chosen not to except the Truth in it's entirety and for eternity. I want to share a few thoughts I found...

The tasting of truth is not enough to keep them from falling away from it. They must come all the way to Christ in complete repentance and faith; otherwise, they in effect re-crucify Christ and treat Him contemptuously. Those who sin against Christ in such a way have no hope of restoration or forgiveness because they reject Him with full knowledge and conscious experience. They have concluded that Jesus should have been crucified, and they stand with His enemies. It is impossible to renew such to repentance. ("Got?.org" )

Now come to verse 4, he says, "You know so much that it is impossible, for you who have been so enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift, partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God, the powers the age to come, if you fall away to renew you to repentance." In other words, with all you know if you turn your back on this you could never be saved. Why? Because if you reject with such full light, how could you ever be saved? Do you see the point? (John MacArthur)

In other words, if you walk away from this there’s no hope for you, because this is all the revelation you could possibly have, you ought to be a teacher. I mean you know everything. And if you turn your back on this…it’s hopeless. Your going to go right out and crucify the Son of God and put Him in open shame. (John MacArthur)

Not one word in verse 4 or 5 is ever used anywhere in the Bible to speak of salvation. Salvation is never called enlightenment, it is never called tasting the Spirit of God, it is never called tasting the powers of the age to come, it is never called tasting the good Word of God. Those are references to having an intellectual perception. So you see, the point there is they weren’t even saved...  (John MacArthur)

Now, I'm sure we could discuss this all day, and please share your findings on this passage, but I don't want to overlook the first 3 verses of this chapter where we are told to make sure we grow up.  Having worked with kids all my life, I've seen every different maturity rate out there! However, I'm not sure I've ever seen a kid who didn't want to grow up, who wasn't always looking into the future and what a few more years would bring them:  different TV options, sleepovers, kindergarten, bigger allowance, driver's license, etc.  Kids tend to focus on the rewards that come with growing up, with maturity.  So, why don't we, as Christians, do the same?  Why are so many of us content to just stay babies?  Why don't we focus on the rewards of maturity? That is a closer relationship with Christ, a faith that is ever more secure and a clearer and deeper understanding of who God is.  

So, where in your walk are you still taking baby steps?



The writer of Hebrews wants to get a point across, quoting Ps. 95:7-8 three times in chapters 3 and 4. The point is simply this, “Do not harden your hearts.”

Chapter four deals with a Sabbath Rest for the people of God.
Remember, the book of Hebrews was probably written to… Hebrews.
When they were slaves in Egypt, these Hebrews worked 7 days a week. They did not have a day off; they did not have a Sabbath. Can you imagine doing manual labor every single day, with no day to rest, no day to look forward to? When the Hebrews left Egypt, God reestablished the Sabbath (Exodus 20). It was a day for the Hebrews to rest, rejuvenate, worship, and NOT work.

In Egypt they were slaves, suffering oppression, mastered by someone else. But the Sabbath meant living outside of Egypt… outside of oppression… outside of slavery.
After working 7 days each week, a day to rest would have meant God’s blessing.
The Sabbath meant the freedom to rest in the presence of God.

And the promise of entering his rest still stands (Heb. 4:1). Because in Christ, we now live outside of Egypt.

And what keeps us from entering rest, relationship, and intimacy with God? It starts slowly with the hardening of our hearts. Even after these people left Egypt, many of them wanted to go back, grumbled against God, and let their hearts be led astray.

The hardening of hearts has happened in the past to God’s people, and it could happen again.

What does it mean to harden your heart? What causes it? What does it lead to?

In what ways does chapter 4 warn you? Challenge you? Inspire you?

So, may you hear the voice of God today, and may you not harden your hearts (vs. 7).



In chapter 3, the author brings Moses into the presentation. To a Jew, Moses was one of the most influential men in all of history. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. In essence, Moses was a savior to their ancestors. The story of the Exodus was the foundational story in their history. The Torah was attributed to Moses' work. Moses was one very important fellow. But compared to Jesus, Moses doesn't hold a candle. The author is continuing to build a foundation of the supremacy of Jesus. Jesus is above all. Notice how the author doesn't just stop here, but how she then moves to instruction. She reminds the reader/hearer/us that those who followed Moses hardened their hearts toward God. Now that God has spoken to us through Christ, we must not harden our hearts...we must keep our hearts and minds soft and open to God's voice and will in our lives through Jesus.

How do our hearts become hard toward God? I know there are definite times in my life that I have turned away from the truth and hardened my heart toward God. What is it that moves us in this direction? And then, how do we return, how do we find ourselves moving back toward God's love in Jesus?



I'm not going to lie...Hebrews is a tough read. For starters, we aren't sure who wrote Hebrews (I love Rob's joke that whoever she was, she was brilliant.) and to whom it was written. Add to that the fact that the author's thought pattern is very different than ours, written to a culture very different from ours, and we have a book that makes us scratch our heads.

Have you ever been really, really excited about something revolutionizing your life? Maybe it was the clapper - a simple way to turn the lights on and off. Maybe it was that juicer you saw on late night tv - the way to a healthier lifestyle. Maybe it was a new boss or a new employee. You thought they were the answer to all your problems. A couple years ago, a book was released and marketed as THE way to get your children to eat vegetables. It wasn't difficult...blend them up and substitute them for other ingredients in food. We bought the book, the vegetables and the new blender. We thought it would fix our kids unhealthy eating habits. Let's just say that it didn't live up the the hype. The food was terrible. There is this tendancy that many of us have to get pumped about a product, only to find ourselves losing faith as time goes on. Such is the case with those Hebrews was written for. It was as if they started off strong and found themselves losing faith as time passed. The author wants to remind them, and build a strong foundation of who Jesus really is and why He came. Jesus isn't just a good man with some good teachings. He is above all things and life is found in Him alone.

Hebrews is built around one central theme: the sufficiency and centrality of Jesus Christ. It appears that the audience is questioning if Christ is God's final plan. They are wondering if there is more to it. And so the author begins a long, thoughtful presentation of who Christ really is and why He is God's only plan. As you read, keep in mind that the point is to help us see Christ at the center...not only of creation, but also of God's plan for humanity. This first two chapters build a case for the supremecy of Jesus.

What makes you scratch your head in these first two chapters?


Third Heaven

In II Cor. 12, Paul shares about a very unusual experience.

Vs 2 “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether is was in the body or out of the body I do not know- God knows… he was caught up to paradise.”

Third heaven? Out of body experience? Did anyone learn about this passage in Sunday School?
There are many theories on what this “third heaven” is.

One thing that might help: The world “paradise” comes from the Persian word, which means a “walled garden”. When a Persian king wished to honor someone very special to him, he made that person a “companion of the garden.” This gave the person the right to walk with the king in the royal gardens in close and intimate companionship (Barclay 286).

Jesus uses this analogy in Luke 23 on the cross when he tells the criminal “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

God walked with Adam in the “Garden of Eden” before the fall of mankind.

What is your theory of the third heaven?

Hebrew starts on Monday!


light and momentary troubles… huh

Here are some observations and questions on II Cor. 11

In this passage Paul is writing in response to opposition against him.
It is a fascinating passage but something really jumps out at me as I read.

In chapter 4 Paul writes about his ministry. Look at verses 8-12, and 16-18 of chapter 4.

Then read chapter 11: 23-29.

What light and momentary troubles have plagued Paul?
How is he outwardly wasting away but inwardly being renewed?
How is death at work in him but life at work in others?

How does this inspire you?

How does it challenge you?



II Cor. 7
Scholars tell us that something had gone terribly wrong with Paul and the Corinthians. Trying to mend the wound, Paul made a quick trip to Corinth, but it was unsuccessful and only caused more heartbreak. After the visit that failed, Paul dispatched Titus to the Corinthians with a letter filled with sternness and harsh corrections for their thinking and behavior. (This letter was possibly I Corinthians, but maybe even the first part of II Corinthians)

Paul did not know how the Corinthians would react to the strict demands in his letter. Can you imagine his unrest as he awaited news from Titus on how his letter was received? Have you ever felt the anxiety of such a situation?

That is the background story for which chapter 7 was written. Understanding the intensity of the moment causes this to be an extremely rich passage indeed!

Paul once again writes of the God who brings comfort, and Paul experiences comfort, peace, and joy when he hears Titus’ report.

Chapter 7 addresses Paul’s outlook on rebuke and receiving rebuke.

Paul writes about two different kinds of sorrows: Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. In what ways are these sorrows different? What different things do they lead to? How have you experienced both kinds of sorrow in your life?

I love Paul’s honesty as he shares his heart and his experiences with the Corinthians in this letter.



I always wanted to be the team captain. Both in high school and college, my first three years found me desperately wanting to be a team captain. I wanted to walk to the center of the field, call the coin toss and represent my team. I wanted to be the one with a tough look, no smiles - I wanted to shake the hand of our opponents and squeeze as hard as I could - I wanted to be the team captain. But the team captain had more responsibility than just what was visible on the field. The captain led the team - on and off the field of play. The team captain was chosen because he was the best option to represent the team - players and coaches. This position was one with great responsibility.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul reminds us that we are Christ's ambassadors. Think about the great honor of being named the ambassador of the Son of God, King Jesus. This is startling news. When I look at my life I see mistakes and failures and weakness. But when God looks at us, He sees Jesus. God looks at you and me and sees something great. Paul tries to help us see this when he says, "anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" God chooses you and me to be ambassadors for the King.

With honor comes responsibility. This role of ambassador is not a figure head role. It is one with great purpose. Catch this... God sent Jesus to reconcile us to Him. In other words, Jesus was here so that we could be o.k. with God. Our role, our responsibility is to continue that mission in the world - to help others know that they can, through Christ, be o.k. with God. Don't miss this - what we do is the most important thing going on in the world today.

You are an ambassador. Your old life is gone and there is new life in Christ. And your mission is to help people know that because of Christ, they are o.k. with God.

How does that make you feel? What are you doing this week as His ambassador?



This chapter is one of the most powerful chapters in the New Testament. I love it. It serves as such an encouragement for followers of Christ - an encouragement to continue preaching Christ and pointing others to Him no matter what may come. Just a couple of things to note:

1. We preach Christ: It must be our goal to preach Christ, not ourselves. It is a temptation to think about how others view us and adjust accordingly. It is a temptation to work to have others follow us instead of Jesus. It is a temptation to build our own Kingdom instead of His. We must remain fixed on preaching Christ.

2. We are like jars of clay: We find ourselves getting knocked around in this world. Following Christ is a call to live a different kind of way than the rest of the world. Choosing that path will cause us to take some hits and get some bumps and bruises. But the power within us is greater than the powers outside of us. We are pressed, but not crushed...

3. We should never give up: Though our bodies are fading and weakening, our spirits are being renewed each day by God's own Spirit. God breathes new life into us each day, and empowers us to continue the way of Jesus. He gives us strength to continue pointing people toward Him.

The takeaway? Preach Jesus and point people to Him, not you. Realize that the message you carry is far more important than the 'jar' it is in. And be renewed each day by God's Spirit. Remember...

our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.



The art of letter writing is not dead, at least not in our family.   Megan loves to write letters to one of her best friends in Tennessee.  Now, these are not traditional letters as they are often written on multiple pieces of paper or sticky notes reflecting their different moods on the different days each was penned.  And that is why I love when I get to read them.  Those letters burst with personality and honesty--reflecting exactly what each was thinking in that moment. That is true freedom among friends who hide nothing.  I thought of this as I read Chapter 3 today.

In Paul's letter he speaks of people being letters, letters of commendation...of proof of our works, really.  And, the freedom that comes when we turn to God and experience Him face to face.  It made me ask myself some questions:

Do I hid behind any veils?  Is there an area of my life that I have not completely exposed, and submitted to God?

What "letters" have I written in my lifetime?  In the last few months?  In the last week?  I hope and pray always that my children are letters for me; reflections of how well I have shared and shown God to them.  But what other letters am I working on? Who else can some day be that reflection?  Not for our glory, but for the sake of God's Kingdom should we all be composing letters of lives daily.  

So, who should be your next letter?



Today we start a new book, II Corinthians, which comes after I Corinthians if you were having trouble finding it. In II Corinthians we will find an emotional author in the Apostle Paul.

In Philippians he is joyful, and Galatians he is angry, Philemon he is compassionate. In this letter Paul is in deep sorrow from a great suffering he has endured. And it is from this great suffering that he speaks of comfort to others who suffer.

Check out how many times he uses the word comfort in verses 3-7. Do you see a theme?

Paul also makes a connection between the suffering and the resurrection of Christ with our own story (vs. 5-7) Christ’s body was broken and his blood poured out to bring new life to humanity. And now, as the church, we are the body of Christ on earth. This is central to Paul’s theology. II Corinthians returns to this pattern again and again. In chapter 4 he expounds on this idea of death and new life, suffering and comfort, and it is truly good news…


do everything

At the end of his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul says this: Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.

And do everything with love. I'm not great at that. In fact, I have a long way to go. Just thinking back over the past few days, I find that there are plenty of things I've done without love. What would it look like if you and I did everything with love? What would it look like to your spouse if you did everything with love? What would it look like to your children if you did everything with love? What would it look like to your parents if you did everything with love? What would it look like to your neighbor if you did everything with love? What would it look like to your enemy (you know, that person you can't stand to be around...) if you did everything with love?

And do everything with love.



The word 'so' is such a simple word. But it is a transition word that is important to pay attention to when reading Paul's letters. Paul usually begins by building a foundation of theology. He wants us to know the truth about God and what God has done through Jesus. Then, he wants us to know how it should be impacting our lives. This little word, 'so,' provides the transition from one to the other.

Chapter 15 begins with a simple statement:
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said.

This is the foundation of theology - the core belief we are to build everything around. Is this at the center of your life, your faith, your belief, your worldview? (on Sunday we sang a song titled 'Center' that said "Oh Christ be the center of our lives, be the place we fix our eyes..." I loved it. It was written by Charlie Hall if you want to find it on itunes.)

Then, at the very end of this long chapter, Paul uses the little transition word 'so.' Here comes how we are to live in light of the theology, the foundation he has been building. Don't miss this:
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Be strong and immovable. Dig your feet in. Let your roots grow down into Christ. Don't allow others to knock you off of center. And then get enthusiastic in your work for King Jesus...because it is not useless. I often lose enthusiasm. I get complacent. What you and I are doing for the King is eternally important. I truly believe that what we do is the most important thing going on in the universe today. I know there are a lot of good things going on, but what we should be doing could influence people to make decisions that change the course of their forever. So...be immovable and enthusiastic.


Say what?

Darin and I have some wonderful friends in Kentucky and we have attended their church during weekend visits on several occasions.  We have experienced prophecy beyond preaching and teaching and have been called out as direct receivers of a specific message.  I have to admit, it was a little out of our comfort zone!  However, on every occasion I wanted to pull out my Bible and read today's chapter out loud--throughout the service there are always at least 10 people speaking in tongue and at several points in the service, up to 30 or 40 voices can be heard. About this time Darin's ADD kicks in!

All joking aside, it was always so distracting.  And, we would get slightly amused at how everyone was seemingly unaware of each other and everyone talking, but no one interpreting. Every once in a while, there would be a lull, and 2 people would stand together, one speaking and one interpreting.  Admittedly, this was still strange to us as neither Darin nor I grew up in a church where tongues and interpretation were part of the service.  However, my Spirit always had a very different response when there was interpretation as opposed to the chaos that seemed to ensue most of the time.  

What I love about Paul's writings today is that they talk of how the speaking of tongue is an intimate prayer language with God.  Isn't that just beautiful?  I have never received the gift of tongues, but I do have friends who have shared with me experiences when they were so deeply entrenched in prayer that they have begun communicating in Spirit through a language they did not recognize.  Now that's cool!  

I have always believed, based on this passage, that public speaking of tongues should ALWAYS be paired with interpretation.  I also believe that the gift of tongues is a gift from God and has great purpose within prayer.  But, I also pulled something new out of this passage today:  while he is clearly giving some direction, instruction, and boundaries to speaking in tongue, the flip side of that is presenting God's truth in every service.  Again, I have attended services at other churches before and walked away wondering what an unbeliever could possibly have gained from that message.  I am thankful for MMCC and the Truth that is always spoken in a manner that reaches the unbelievers where they are but encourages and pushes the believer as well.  It was just a good reminder to me that all we do on Sunday morning to make service enticing to the children is important, but none more than presenting Biblical Truth.  That should be and is our number goal.



Chapter 13 might be the most wonderful literature in history. After all Paul has dealt with in this letter, after all his frustration, correction, and teaching, he wants the Corinthians to understand this one thing; love. He wants them to be united as one body, the body of Christ, and this is how that solidarity is achieved; love.

In everything they do, in everything they strive for, in all of their differences, and all the ways they try to get things “right”, it’s all meaningless without love.

One writer even says, “God is love.” (I Jn. 4:16)
Jesus sums up the central theme of the scripture, “love God, and love others”. (Matt. 22:37)

Love is absolutely essential for a follower of Jesus, and this is why we continue to stress loving people with no strings attached.

And so the other day I helped take the food from the MMCC food drive down to Living Water Fellowship. Some men from the discipleship house came out to help unload the groceries. These men are rough men, many rehabbing from addictions and a wrecked life. They were overwhelmed with the amount of food being organized for distribution.
One man asked me, “Why are you all so generous?”
And I got to tell him, “Because we love you.”
And he said, “but you don’t even know us.”
And I responded, “It doesn’t matter, God knows you, and so we love you.”

We are fully known by God, and he still loves us. (vs .12)
An activity we do with our students:
Look at verses 4-7, anytime you see the word love, replace it with your name. _________________ is patient. __________________ is kind.
Can you still read these verses with your name replacing love? Will it still be true?


Context plus the Holy Spirit

With a few exceptions, the Apostle Paul’s letters were written to meet an immediate situation. Often times, there was some threatening situation in the churches in Corinth, or Galatia, or Philippi, and Thessalonica. And so when we read the Letters of Paul we must keep the context of which they were written in mind. Did anyone have a tough time with I Cor. 11:1-10? What does this instruction mean for us in today’s world? Should women still cover their heads when they pray? Or was there a certain kind of “woman” who uncovered her head in a place like Corinth that Paul is addressing? Context is important…

But we also must remember that a thing is not transient because it was written to meet an immediate situation.
Think of the greatest love songs of the world. Most of them were written about one person, but everyone likes them. We connect with certain songs because we understand the situation. Couples will even claim one as “our song.”

So it is with Paul’s letters. They may have been written to meet a threatening danger, a difficult circumstance, or addressing issues, but we have much to learn from them. For even though human culture changes, the human situation does not. And so God still speaks to us through these letters he inspired Paul to write 2000 years ago. That is why these letters are considered Holy Scripture; they are alive and active.

Context with the Holy Spirit guiding us is important, otherwise we would have a lot of bald women walking around (I Cor. 11:6).


the body

I absolutely love Paul's discussion about the body, or the church. Paul is clear that each believer receives a gift from God's Spirit and that this gift is to be used to build up the church. He speaks about the church as a body - a group of individual parts working together for the greater good. Each part is vital. There is not one part that can be removed without hurting the body. In other words, there is no appendix in the church. You are a vital part of the church. Regardless of what gift you think you may or may not have, you are a vital part of the church. MMCC is not what God had in mind if you are not using your gift to build up the body, the church. (How is that for guilt?) If you are a believer, you have a gift that fulfills an important role in the church.
So, to build one another up, what gifts do you see functioning in our church body today? Who do you see using a gift that God gave them? For example, Christy Fay and Dan Smith used their gifts the past two weeks to bring The Shack to life in Sunday morning worship.
And, what gift do you bring to the body? Are you using it?


Sin City

Some much needed background information on Corinth:

If you look at a map of the Mediterranean World in the 1st Century, you will find Corinth located on a four mile wide Isthmus that divides the northern and southern parts of Greece. Mariners would actually pull their boats out of the water and drag them on rollers across this isthmus instead of sailing around the dangerous waters of southern Greece. The voyage around Greece’s southern waters was so dangerous that the sailors had a saying, “Let him who sails around (southern Greece) first make his will.” And so people from all over the world would pass through either for trade or on a journey.

This strategic location allowed Corinth to be one of the greatest trading and commercial centers of the ancient world. Its wealth and diversity resulted in an epicenter of culture and fashion.

But there was another side to Corinth. Not only was it known for its wealth and culture, but it also had a reputation for being an evil and immoral city. It was probably a Spring Break destination for ancient young 20 somethings. There was another saying popular in this time period, “korinthianzesthai” or “To live like a Corinthian”, which meant to live with drunken and immoral debauchery. No one is even sure what debauchery means... it is so bad, we can't talk about it :)

One reason for the evil was that above the isthmus there towered the hill of Acropolis, and on it stood the great temple of Aphordite, “goddess of love.” One thousand priestesses worked in this temple as sacred prostitutes, and in the evening they descended upon Corinth and plied their trade in the streets. Another saying became popular; “It is not every man who can afford a journey to Corinth.” Which might have been similar to “What happens in Vegas…”

And so this new, diverse group of Christians starts meeting in this city. Can you imagine some of the “issues” they might have been dealing with? Can you imagine the frustration of Paul as he tries to instruct and bring wisdom, grace and truth to this young church?

More thoughts on this tomorrow…


Outside and Inside

Lawsuits and sexually immorality.  Are these my only choices today? Ha Ha.  At first, I wasn't gleaning anything out of these verses for myself.  I'm not at "battle" with anyone and considering a law suit and I'm in a committed and pure marriage.  So, God, what would you have me take away from this?  How does this apply to me?  Here was His answer:  Protect your witness and protect your Holy temple.

I don't want to overgeneralize this Chapter at all, but that I can run with.  While Paul's main point is that they are asking people they would trust with no other matter to settles disputes; they are entrusting decisions to unGodly people so they will get unGodly answers.  But I also see that then the unbelievers are seeing these disputes and arguments and witnessing often unGodly thoughts and actions.  Our bottom line in The Alley yesterday was "When you stand for what's right, you show others who God is".  When I apply this life application to these verses, I come away with the notion that in everything I do, I'm either showing others who God is or who I am without God.    Every day we have opportunities to be Jesus with skin on, a walking Bible, or however you want to put it--we have the chance to demonstrate who God is and what He's all about.  And, more importantly, if we are Christians, people are watching to see if our walk matches our talk:  in the movies we watch, with the language we use, in how forgiving we are, with how slow to anger we are, in how we treat others, etc.   

Just as we need to be somewhat aware of what others see in us, we need to be ultra aware of what is in us, the Holy Spirit.  There are certain things we would NEVER consider doing while at church, but once we are away from God's House, the rules seem to change.  The problem is that God's House is us: "19 Or don't you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body." (1 Cor 6:19-20 NLT)  When I look at preteen/teen girls I am sometimes overwhelmed with this truth for them.  If only we could fully grasp at a young age that we are Holy because God is in us.  Oh what different choices we would make and how differently we would view ourselves.  The world tells us we are not good enough and to do whatever makes us feel good in the moment.  God tells us we are beautiful in Him and that through Him peace and contentment will come.  Boy that one took me along time to even realize it existed.  And I still wrestle with a complete understanding of being Holy.  

Is there someone in your life who doesn't see themselves through God's eyes right now?  They can't see that who they are exactly who God created them to be and He made their body a dwelling place for Him?  Maybe that someone is you?  Let God work in and through you today.


When we are cursed, we bless….

I Corinthians 4

The Romans were masters in propaganda. They loved to display power, might, and glory to remind the people of their greatness. In fact, after military victories, the Roman Generals would return to the capital city in a triumphant parade. These events were actually called a ‘triumph’.

In the days before the news media flashed pictures of battle and victories around the world, this was how people back home knew for sure their generals had won.
And so the generals and rulers of Rome would parade their greatness and splendor through the streets of Rome along with the spoils of war they had secured. At the end of the parade would be the weary gang of prisoners the Romans had conquered and captured. The day would usually end with these prisoners being sold into slavery or killed in the arena for sport (Wright 48).

In chapter 4, Paul uses this picture to show the Corinthians what the life of an Apostle is like. He is once again addressing the rivalry and animosity within the Corinthian church, with different teachers and speakers claiming that their wisdom makes them ‘rich’ or even ‘kings’. (Vs. 8-13)

Who does Paul identify himself with in the picture of the parade (vs. 9)? Why would he do this?

Do you sense a hint of sarcasm?

Verses 11-13 really jumped out at me this morning…

And what does it mean for us today to imitate Paul? (vs. 16)

For a great commentary on this passage, check out “Paul for Everyone: I Corinthians” by NT Wright.


Wisdom and Following

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God's deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person's thoughts except that person's own spirit, and no one can know God's thoughts except God's own Spirit. 12 And we have received God's Spirit (not the world's spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

I love these thoughts. God's very Spirit - the Spirit that breathed life into Adam and Eve, the Spirit that Jesus breathed onto/into His disciples, the Spirit that filled the writers of Scripture - dwells in us. We have God's Spirit speaking life and wisdom into our lives. Discerning the sound of His Spirit takes time, but we know through the teachings of the NT that the Spirit lives within us. I believe when we hear and respond to the Spirit in our lives, the Spirit's voice becomes louder and clearer to us. And when we hear and ignore the Spirit, that voice becomes softer and more distant to us. Are you listening and responding to the Spirit in your life?

Pam Smith made a great comment in response to Jared's post yesterday. If you haven't read it, go back and read it now. Chapter 3 is for us. Here's the deal - Paul preached Christ, I (Matt) preach Christ, Jared preaches Christ, Don preached Christ - we are all pointing people to Christ alone, not us. I do not want any followers because I will only let them down. I want to lead people to Christ - He is the only One worth following. Pam...great thoughts - thanks for the reminder.

Any other pieces of this passage jump out at you?


Who are you following?

I don't know about you all, but I had to read this chapter a couple times to start to grasp it.  (perhaps it's due to the strong doses of allergy meds I'm on!)  It helped me to read a more contemporary translation, then go back to the NIV again.  Any way, here's the two sections that caught my attention:  vs. 11-17 & vs. 27-31.

In verse 17 specifically, Paul talks about how he was sent to be a messenger, a preacher, but not to have a following.  I think this is a struggle that everyone has had at one point in time--the fine line between respecting the preacher or teacher in their life without "following" them or putting them up on a  pedestal.  I've seen time and time again people's faith shattered because they put too much faith in a person.  And while, yes, leaders in the church are called to a high standard, they are humans with flaws who will experience failure.  When we loose sight of their humanness and focus only on their wisdom and teaching, forgetting that it comes from God in the first place, we will always be disappointed.   I also believe that this happens to Satan's great delight for it opens the door to dissension and confusion.  Each time I have witnessed a similar situation, my heart has broken for the person, the leader and the church.  I absolutely beleive that it's important to find teachers and preachers that we can trust to share God's Truth with us and that we respect as Wise in God and His Word.   But we always need to be mindful that we are trusting and following Christ first, not the messenger.

Let me share verses 27-31 from The Message: "27 Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, 28 chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? 29 That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. 30 Everything that we have - right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start - comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. 31 That's why we have the saying, "If you're going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God."

In children's ministry we want young ones to understand that they, too, can be prepared and used by God.  We look at people like Moses, David, & Joseph.  Ordinary people that God worked in and through to do extra ordinary things.  That's the same thing that these last verses of today are talking about.  God chooses us plain people, even messed up, flawed people,  so that when He does something amazing, others have to know it's from God because we are not remarkable enough to accomplish it on our own.  I love that!  If those are the job requirements, I'm perfectly suited--I'm yours God!  

I encourage you to do as I have this morning and think about the times God has used you in all of your weakness and failures to bring glory to His name.  Think about it, then Thank Him.



Chapter 14 is full of heartbreaking stories. Jesus is betrayed, disobeyed, deserted, lied about, and these are just his friends. Jesus is arrested and in verse 53 brought before the high priests and the Sanhedrin.
Now the Sanhedrin was the “Supreme Court” in Jerusalem made up of 70 judges, and this nighttime meeting was illegal for them. They were looking for a reason to put Jesus to death. “Some gave false testimony against Jesus… yet even their own testimony did not agree (v. 59).”
Finally the high priest asks Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus responds, “I am.”

Now up until this point Jesus has told people to be quiet about him being the Messiah (Mk. 1:34, 44 5:43, 8:30). We even blogged about it a few weeks ago as Shad brought it to our attention. Scholars know this idea as the “Messianic Secret.”

Jesus knew the consequences of such a claim… and here at this moment he reveals any secret of who he is. In response to a direct question, Jesus does not hesitate. In fact, he uses the very word “Adonai” used to identify himself to Moses at the burning bush, when he said, “I am who I am.”
So not only does Jesus affirm he is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One, he hints that he is to be identified with Adonai himself!

This would have been a loaded statement to the high priests and Sanhedrin who knew their Torah well. Can you imagine the intensity of this moment? The priest tore his clothes!
Yesterday, Matt shared about how he was reflecting on who Jesus is. Maybe today we can also reflect on Jesus’ response to the question about who he is… “Adonai”.

The secret is out.