Saturday, February 15, 2014

Oh Grow UP!

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

And so, brothers and sisters,[a] I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

When I was a kid one of my teachers would often reach her limit with the class and throw a big text book on her desk and then look at us with frustration and ask, “When will you people grow up?”

One time one of my classmates dared to respond to her and said, “You know, we’re only in the 5th grade – we’re not supposed to be grown up yet.”

Without a moment’s hesitation she glared at him and said, “Well, you 5th graders can at least try to act like 4th graders.”

Growing up is tough, but eventually I guess you have to do it.

Paul talks about how we should grow up in the faith.  

Paul is talking bluntly and boldly to the members of the church in Corinth.  He tells them that they are not all that grown up.  As their pastor he has to speak to them in a way that he might speak to a child.  He says he has to feed them milk because they are too immature for solid food.

What does it mean to grow up and to be spiritually mature?

Does it mean that you can quote lots of Scripture from memory?  Well that’s a good thing to do, but that’s not it.

Does it mean that you understand the doctrine of the Trinity?


Paul brings up spiritual maturity in chapter three of this letter to the Corinthians, but he keeps bringing it up from time to time in this letter.  At one point he says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

He says that in 1st Corinthians 13, which is often called the love chapter – because it is all about love.

You probably remember those verses:

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. …  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Love is the mark of spiritual maturity.
 When we get to the point when we love God and others – that is when we have put aside childish things and are no longer being fed milk, but solid food.

         And if you think that you are loving God and your neighbor like a mature Christian should be doing, think again.
 Because you are not loving as you should.
 None of us are.

For every one of us, there is a blind spot in our soul.  There is a person, or a group of people, who are difficult for us to love. 

    And the ability to love all people is the one and only mark of spiritual maturity.  It is not in being able to read the Old Testament in Hebrew, nor is it to be able to quote Scripture, nor is it in how well you lead or inspire.  It is in your ability to love.

    It’s all about relationships.

    And Paul tells the Corinthians – and he tells us.  It’s time to grow up.

    Some people have done terrible things to us or others.  But Jesus tells us to love our enemy. 

    Love is the core of our faith, and yet, it often takes second place.  We become more concerned about some sort of rules or laws – what songs to sing – contemporary or traditional.  The people who dress up for Church are offended at the people who come to church in casual dress, and the people who dress casually think the people in suits are snobbish.  And everyone is concerned about whether the pastor should wear a robe, a suit, or an Hawaiian shirt.  We get so distracted. 

    And Paul says, it’s time to grow up.  To be mature in our faith.

    And that means love.


     The Apostle John said in his epistle: 
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.”(1 John 4:20)


         Those are strong words – how can we dare say we love God when we fail to love those with whom we come in contact?


    Paul tells us that it is time for us to grow up.  Be mature.  Love one another.

I read an interesting article in this week’s Time magazine.  You may know that there is an effort to send a small group of people to Mars.  It is a serious venture.  The name is Mars One – and that name not only refers to the first Mars colony, but also One in terms of a one way trip.  You see, the astronauts will commit to living on Mars with no hope of ever coming back to Earth.  They have already raised millions of dollars and over 200,000 people have applied to become one-way astronauts.  Mars One has interviewed these applicants and narrowed the field to about 1,058 possible astronauts.  Eventually, they hope to send 20 explorers. 

A reporter with Time Magazine interviewed 6 of these hopeful applicants.  The reporter expected to find introverts or even social rejects.  No – they are all very sociable and they love life.  They just want to be explorers and go to Mars.

One other thing he found was a bit disturbing. 

None of the handful of would be astronauts the reporter interviewed were Christians, or in any way religious.  One applicant for the trip of Mars put it this way:

"I’d worry about going to Mars with a religious person. 'They can be judgmental.’”


Are you telling me that the world out there sees Christians as so judgmental they wouldn’t even go on a one way trip to Mars with us?

Well yeah!  The world ought to look at us and say, “hey there goes a Christian.  They are so loving.  They are so accepting.”


They look at us and say, “Pssth, there goes a Christian – they are so judgmental.” 

Why can’t we be known for loving people? 

Because we don’t love people.

We ARE pretty judgmental when you get right down to it.

Paul says it is time for us to grow up.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

A couple of weeks ago it was wonderful to see so many scouts here.  They fixed a great breakfast.  They served as ushers and greeters.  The scouts and their families filled up the front pews.

It was great!

Now we’ve had the Boy Scouts here for a number of years.  The Cub Scout Pack is brand new. 

Not many of you will know the reason why they are here.

They are here because another church kicked them out.

The other church was angry because the national organization of the Boy Scouts of America has opened its membership to gays. 

I’ve been a Scout.  I’ve been a leader of cub scouts and boy scouts. 

Cub Scouts aren’t worried about what the national organization of scouting is or is not doing.  Most of them have no clue about their own orientation yet.  They just want to meet together in Cub Packs and they want to make crafts and they want to sing songs, and they want grow up and become Boy Scouts!

And this pack got kicked out of one church because of what the national organization did – BUT they were welcomed by a group of Grace Covenant scout leaders.

It didn’t have anything to do with gays – it had to do with kids!  It had to do with love.  Acceptance.  Welcoming.

I hope that when they grow up, what they will remember is not that one group of Christians threw them out – but that another group of Christians embraced them and welcomed them.

Jesus was once asked about the greatest commandment.  He didn’t say anything about murder.  I think that’s a big one – but it isn’t the greatest commandment.  He didn’t say anything about adultery, greed, gluttony (I’m kind of glad that one didn’t make the list).

Love – that was great commandment.  Number one – Love God.  Number two – Love Neighbors.

And by the way, you don’t get to choose who your neighbor is.  It means everyone.

Paul says it is time for us to grow up.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

Gainesville State School had a football team.  They never played a home game.  One season they went 0 and 9.  That means that of the nine games they played, they lost every single one of them.

The Gainesville State School is a juvenile correctional facility in Texas. It’s not just a juvenile correctional facility, but a maximum security prison for these young men.  A small number of these inmates are allowed to play on the school’s football team.  Of the players, many had convictions for assault, drugs, and robbery. Some team members had families who had disowned them.

Every game night, they would travel by bus to another school along with armed guards.  At those games no one sat in the visitor’s bleachers.  No cheerleaders danced or gave cheers.  No parents were there to see their sons compete.

And game after game, the Gainesville Tornadoes lost.

Then one night in November, 2008, they arrived at the Grapevine Faith School in Grapevine, Texas.  When they came out of the locker room to run on the field there were cheerleaders holding a banner so the players could, for the first time, run through and break through a banner and hit the field like athletes instead of prisoners.

Half the parents of the home team sat in the visitor’s bleachers and cheered the opposing team.  Half the cheerleaders shouted from the home team, but the other half was on the visitor’s side. 

 It was the idea of Faith's head coach, Kris Hogan. He decided that he wanted to do something kind for the Gainesville team. 

Faith had never played Gainesville before but Hogan knew the odds of Gainesville winning were slim. Faith had a 7-2 winning record and Gainesville had only scored two touchdowns all year. According to ESPN, Faith has 70 kids, 11 coaches, the latest football equipment and involved parents.  Gainesville, on the other hand, had teenagers with convictions for drugs, assault and robbery -- all wearing 7-year-old shoulder pads and outdated helmets.

Coach Hogan sent an email message to the Faith community. He asked that half of his fans cheer for the Tornados, half of the cheerleaders root for them, and everyone was asked to learn rival team members by name so that each one could hear his name being cheered.

Not everyone was initially excited about the idea. According to ESPN, one Faith player walked into Hogan's office and asked, "Coach, why are we doing this?”

Hogan replied, "Imagine if you didn't have a home life. Imagine if everybody had pretty much given up on you. Now imagine what it would mean for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you.”

“Here's the message I want you to send," Hogan said. “You are just as valuable as any other child of God on this earth.”

It was a strange experience for the boys from Gainesville.

One player said, "We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games." You can see it in their eyes. We’re nothing but worthless criminals.  But these people, they were yellin' for us! Cheering us on and calling us by our names!"

That night, the Gainesville players played the best game of their lives, scoring two touchdowns.  They still lost, but it was a great game.

As the Tornadoes walked back to their bus, they were each handed a bag for the trip home -- a burger, some fries, a soft drink, some candy, a Bible, and an encouraging letter from a Grapevine Faith player.

The Gainesville coach also found Hogan after the game and grabbed him by the shoulders and said, "You'll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You'll never, ever know."

In the wake of the game, the prison itself became a different place.

One teacher who has worked at the school for five years told ESPN magazine "The boys, a lot of them, just hadn’t had anybody care about them.  When they saw that some people could care about them, they brought that back. And then their peers heard that these people cared about them -- really cared about them."  It began to change their grades in the school.  The conduct of the inmates improved. 

It is easy to judge.

It is easy NOT to love.

It is a challenge to really love others.

Paul says it is time for us to grow up.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Mind of Christ

 Isaiah 58:1-12)
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

1 Corinthians 2:9-16
  As it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him"  these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God's except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else's scrutiny. "For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
          Monk was a television detective series that ran for several years.  It was all about a quirky man who was obsessive compulsive, who was always washing his hands, straightening crocked pictures, making sure everything was balanced.  But this fictional character had a brilliant mind.

          In one episode, the police captain was telling a police lieutenant about his first day as Mr. Monk’s partner.  This character, Captain Leland Stottlemeyer tells Lt. Disher, “We were the detectives assigned to what looked like a routine matter.  A hooker was found dead in the hotel room.  She shallowed a bunch of promazine, horse tranquilizers.  I said suicide.  Every cop on the scene said suicide. The Medical examiner said suicide.  Monk walks in, and in two seconds he says murder.  I looked at him like he was crazy.  Monk looks at me and asks, “Where’s the water?  How do you swallow that many huge pills without water?”  It was simple.  Eight people in the room and nobody saw it.  Except Monk.  I wish I had his mind.”

          You ever look at someone – either fictional or a real person – and think, “I wish I had that person’s mind”?

          To have the mind of Albert Einstein and to be able to understand the mysteries of the universe and mathematics.

          To have the economic mind of Steve Forbes, or the inventive mind of Steve Jobs, or the creative mind of JK Rowling. 

          Paul says, we are to have the mind of Christ. 

          What does that mean?

Focused on God

          First of all, Christ has a very focused mind, and his mind was always focused on God.  For us to have the mind of Christ, it means that we need to be focused on God.

          Most of us are focused on God for only short periods of time.  We get distracted.  Like the driver who is trying to text while driving, here we are driving forward in life, trying to do God’s will, but other things are distracting us and we lose our focus on God.

          And life is full of distractions.

          Work.  Family.  School work.  Taxes.  Sex.  Money – or the lack of it. 

          Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.” 

          You see, life is not a 50-yard dash; it is a marathon. We have to stay focused right up to the finish line.  Christ was focused on God.  We must stay focused on God.
In dog obedience training, they put a dog at one end of a room and its master at the other end of the room, with a plate of food in the middle. And then the master calls the dog. If the dog eyes the food, he’s a goner; he’ll go straight for it. So they teach the dog to focus his eyes on the master. If the dog keeps his eyes on the master, he won’t be tempted. Instead of heading for the food, he’ll head straight to the master.  And the master will give the dog food when it is needed.  (Stay Focused! July 01, 2011 by Rick Warren)

We need to keep our eyes on our master or we’ll get distracted. Get your mind off your circumstances and your problems and focus on God’s goodness to you in your past, his closeness to you in your present and his power to help you in your future. Do what Jonah did as he sat in the belly of the great fish: “When I had lost all hope, I turned my thoughts once more to the Lord” (Jonah 2:7 LB).

          Work.  Family.  School work.  Taxes.  Sex.  Money – or the lack of it.  We deal with these so much better if we can stay focused on God. 

          So Paul tells us to have the mind of Christ, which means, stay focused on God.

Focused on Love

          Christ was also focused on love.  

          His whole reason for being incarnate, coming to earth as a baby born in a stable, and growing up and facing crucifixion and resurrection was love.  John’s Gospel says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

          The mission of Christ was not only to offer us salvation, but it was prompted by love. 

          Everything Christ did, he did out of love. 

          We need to be focused on love for God and love for our neighbor.

          That is not easy to do, because there are some difficult people out there.  We are expected to love our nosy next door neighbor, our uncaring boss, our insensitive teacher, the list goes on and on.

          Christ was so focused on love that while he was being nailed to a cross and put to death he prayed for those who were hurting him, saying “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

          How many of us could possibly have that kind of love for someone? 

          I wouldn’t be able to be that focused on love – I’d be focused on “man, these nails hurt like something awful.”

          But not Christ.

          And we are to have that kind of mind – the mind of Christ, that is focused on love.

          In the First Epistle of John, chapter 4, the apostle had this to say about love:  Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”

Focused on Service

          To have the mind of Christ, is also to have a servant’s mind.  It is to think of others more highly than yourself and to consider how you may be of service to them.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples – and in that culture, washing someone’s feet was a humble role to take on and something that only a servant would do.  Christ does this for his disciples and sets the model in place that all of us should be focused on service.

          The Old Testament lesson for today comes from Isaiah, and he has a great imagery of what service should be our focus.

          As Isaiah puts it:
to loose the bonds of injustice…
to let the oppressed go free…
to share your bread with the hungry…
to care for the homeless poor…
to cloth the naked…
to offer food to the hungry…
to care for those afflicted…

          To have the mind of Christ is to be focused on such a life of service, to be focused on love, and to be focused on God.

          Now it is easy in this place to keep our focus.  Once we leave here, it is hard to keep that focus.

          Golf immortal Arnold Palmer recalls a lesson about keeping focused. 

It was the final hole of the 1961 Masters tournament, and he had a one-stroke lead and had just hit a very satisfying tee shot. He felt confident that he was in pretty good shape.  He approached his ball and he saw an old friend standing at the edge of the gallery. Palmer’s friend greeted him and the golfer went over and stuck out his hand and greeted him. 

He said as soon as they were shaking hands, Palmer knew that he had lost his focus.

On his next two shots, he hit the ball into a sand trop, then put it over the edge of the green. He missed a putt and lost the Masters. (Carol Mann, The 19th Hole, (Longmeadow), quoted in Reader's Digest.)

When you lose focus, you lose everything.

We have to stay focused.  Not just in here, but out there.

We have to have the mind of Christ.

 Copyright 2014
W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved