The Broken Power of Death

Scripture Focus: Hosea 13.14
14 “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; 
I will redeem them from death. 
Where, O death, are your plagues? 
Where, O grave, is your destruction? 

Psalm 146.3-5
3 Do not put your trust in princes, 
in human beings, who cannot save. 
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; 
on that very day their plans come to nothing. 
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, 
whose hope is in the Lord their God. 

Isaiah 25.8
8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. 

1 Corinthians 15.54-56
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 

     55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
         Where, O death, is your sting?” 

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection: The Broken Power of Death
By John Tillman

Hosea and Isaiah’s ministries overlapped and their writing echoes each other. Paul paraphrases their promises of resurrection into one of his brightest, most hopeful refrains. This chorus of hope comes most directly from one of the darkest chapters of Hosea.

Rather than rely upon God, Israel and Judah had turned to political alliances and the gods those allies worshiped. But these “princes” would soon commit atrocities. These sound eerily familiar to ones committed by today’s powerful countries who bomb maternity wards and civilian evacuation corridors.

Death is not only dispensed at the whim of greedy empires but is carried on the wings of disease and aging. What hope can we have against death? This question is common to the people of Israel and Judah in Isaiah and Hosea’s day, to downtrodden outcasts under Rome’s rule, and to those targeted by empires and dictators today.

The poor and the powerless are overrun by death. They have no defenses and little strength to resist or slow its advance. They are helpless.

Wealth and power do much to extend life. The wealthy can easily flee conflict and the powerful are welcomed to new countries rather than crammed into inhumane camps. Experimental and expensive life-saving and life-extending medical treatments are common among the powerful. Absent these extreme examples, even simple, quality of life differences add years to the lives of the wealthy. However, in the end, the rich, the powerful, and the poor all die. The teacher of Ecclesiastes would call these efforts meaningless or absurd. (Ecclesiastes 3:19)

To the unbelieving world, for whom mortal life is all there is, death is ultimate. It is the worst thing that can happen to a person and there is no remedy.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us and it does not have the final word in our lives but that does not mean we should not grieve it. Lazarus was only four days in the grave, yet Jesus wept. (John 11.35) We weep and mourn death, but not without hope. (1 Thessalonians 4.13)

While we flee or delay death, scripture describes death’s defeat. God promises the grave will not be our final destination. We will only pass through and when we leave, we will be led by Christ himself. For those in Christ, death is a toothless predator, a limbless wrestler, who cannot hold us down for long.

Death which swallows all, will be swallowed up.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. — Psalm 97.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Hosea 13 (Listen 2:26)
Matthew 16 (Listen 3:43)

This Weekend’s Readings
Hosea 14 (Listen 1:39), Matthew 17 (Listen 3:46)
Joel 1 (Listen 2:59), Matthew 18 (Listen 4:25)

Listen to Too Much to Hold on the Pause to Read podcast
In Christ, we’re made to be like him
Too much for Death to hold

Read more about Stealing Death’s Sting
Untie our grave clothes and strip us of the trappings of this world.
Let us walk into the light and follow your loving voice.

Love Great or Terrible

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 13.1-3
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing

“Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws.” — Tim Keller

Reflection: Love Great or Terrible
By John Tillman

People get poetic talking about love. In “love songs,” love is either great or terrible.

All you need is love.
What’s love got to do with it?
Love makes the world go ‘round.
Love me tender.
You’re gonna love me.
Sometimes love don’t feel like it should.
At last, my love has come along.
Can anybody find me somebody to love?
I just want to use your love tonight.
I don’t know where to put my love.
I want to know what love is.
Love hurts.
Love bites.
Love stinks.

Paul’s poem on love comes after discussing the gifts of the Spirit. The Corinthians used gifts in powerful, chaotic, and competitive ways that harmed the church. Paul determined to show them a better way—the way of love. (1 Corinthians 12.31)

Jesus named love (of God and neighbor) as the greatest commandment. Paul names love the greatest gift of the Spirit.

A saying around the church I attend is that we follow the words of Jesus and the way of Jesus. It’s one way of saying we speak truth in love. (Ephesians 4.15) The Corinthian church had the “gifts” of Jesus but they weren’t following the “way” of Jesus.

Truth, without love, does harm.
Love, without truth, does harm.

It doesn’t matter how true your words are if they wound people. Some have been wounded so badly by “truth-tellers,” they can’t distinguish the truth from the wound. If you use truth to put people in this condition, what use is your “truth?”

It doesn’t matter how much you love if you never speak truth. Some people mistake unconditional love for unconditional endorsement. Without the truth, people will continue in lies that destroy their bodies, minds, and souls. If you allow this to happen, what use is your “love?”

In the songs quoted above, the difference in love being great or terrible is usually the character of the lover. Let us love in a way that shows the character of Jesus. Don’t let the truth you speak be a resounding gong of nothingness that drives people from salvation, rather than calling them to it.

Love and truth, together, lift others. They don’t push them down.
Love and truth, together, enlighten others. They don’t blind them.
Love and truth, together, save others. They don’t terrorize them.
Love and truth, together, show the character of Jesus, the true lover of our souls.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your Name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 3 (Listen 4:33)
1 Corinthians 13 (Listen 2:23)

Read more about Another Love Chapter
If asked about the Bible’s “Love Chapter”, most think 1 Corinthians 13. But there is another love chapter. 1 John 4…

Read more about Freedom For, Not From
Let us think about our freedom in the way Paul did, not as a way to benefit ourselves but as a way to benefit others and spread the gospel.

Freedom For, Not From

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 9.19-23
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Reflection: Freedom For, Not From
By John Tillman

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.…” (Galatians 5.1)

Paul wrote some of the most stirring words about freedom in the scriptures but had a different idea about individual freedom than is common today.

Westerners especially are individualistic by default. Our cultural idea of freedom is personal: My freedom is mine. It is for me. It allows me to choose the best for myself. It allows me to do what I want to do. My freedom serves my pleasure, my needs, and my goals. Your freedom is important too, but only because all must be free so that I can be free. And if you use your freedom to do something I don’t like…well, I might work to restrict that freedom.

Individual freedom is good. Personal responsibility is good. However, this vision of individual freedom can fuel selfishness: I am free to care for myself and so are you. I am responsible to care for myself and so are you. Therefore you are not entitled to help from me and your need places no obligation upon me. This cultural idea, which says “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed.” is condemned in scripture. (James 2.16

Rather than seeing his freedom as setting him free from others, Paul utilized his freedom for others. Paul called himself a “slave” of others. Paul leveraged his freedom for others. He sacrificed his freedom for others. He brought freedom to others.

Paul leveraged his freedom. Paul used the freedoms of his Roman citizenship to travel freely and to avoid persecution. His freedom of movement and legal rights ensured that the gospel continued to spread.

Paul sacrificed his freedom. Before Festus, Paul could have been set free. (Acts 26.32) Yet, he made a  strategic legal appeal that would mean imprisonment and death for him, but life for the church.

Paul brought freedom. Paul used the freedom he had in Christ to bring freedom to others and make the most of every evangelical opportunity. He was a cultural chameleon, yet without losing the distinctiveness of following Jesus. Rather than demanding his own freedom or enforcing his culture, Paul removed every cultural stumbling block except the gospel.

Let us think about our freedom in the way Paul did, not as a way to benefit ourselves but as a way to benefit others and spread the gospel.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Hallelujah! Praise the Name of the Lord; give praise, you servants of the Lord,
You who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God.
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praises to his Name, for it is lovely. — Psalm 136.1-3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 35 (Listen 4:41)
1 Corinthians 9 (Listen 4:04)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 36 (Listen 2:15), 1 Corinthians 10(Listen 4:04)
Deuteronomy 1 (Listen 6:27), 1 Corinthians 11 (Listen 4:20)

Read more about Complaint to Commission
Paul also shows us how to go beyond complaint to the cure our culture needs—the gospel.

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Normalizing Idols

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 8.9-13
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. 

Reflection: Normalizing Idols
By John Tillman

The ancient world was filled with gods and temples. Sacrifices in these temples were often of food that would be sold in the marketplace or even served at banquets in the temples themselves. Scrupulous Jews went to extreme lengths to avoid even accidentally purchasing and eating meat that may have been sacrificed to an idol. (Acts 15.29)

But if idols are merely fake gods made from wood and stone by men and I serve the God of Heaven who made the wood, the stone, and the man, why should I worry? If their god isn’t real, there’s nothing wrong with the meat. If my God is real, all things are clean that he has called clean. (Acts 10.15) Why shouldn’t I eat?

What should we do when someone’s convictions about moral choices are more restrictive than our own? What should we do when our rights interfere with someone else? When we are enlightened and they are repressed, when we are right and they are wrong, why should we defer to them?

When speaking into such controversy, Paul began by saying, “…knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”

Knowledge is freedom. Knowledge is power. Freedom is often abused and can be deceptively destructive. Power is often abused and corrupts those who wield it. It should not surprise us then that knowledge can be abused.

The Corinthian’s knowledge was leading them toward pride and boasting. Paul pointed out the dark path their so-called enlightenment was leading towards. Their boldness and boasting would normalize something that could destroy others’ faith.

It might seem that we don’t have temples on every corner, sacrificing animals to false gods and selling meat. But the false gods in our culture don’t go by names like “Aphrodite,” whose temple was in Corinth, or “Artemis,” whose temple was in Ephesus. The temples of our false gods aren’t selling meat but that doesn’t mean there aren’t sacrifices. Are we buying what they are selling? Should we be?

What idols of this age are we normalizing? Even if we, in our knowledge, “haven’t done anything wrong,” are we harming others by participating? Are we “puffed up” with knowledge or “building up” in love?

Love is a greater ethic than knowledge or freedom. When knowledge leads us toward pride, let love lead us toward humility. When freedom leads us toward boasting, let love lead us toward sacrifice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 34 (Listen 2:59)
1 Corinthians 8 (Listen 1:54)

Read more about Ready to Exit the Desert
May we leave sin and doubt in the desert, crossing the Jordan toward God’s calling to be his city on a hill.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
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Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 6.12-20
12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Reflection: Embodied
By John Tillman

Why do we have bodies?

Some would rather we didn’t. Some say, “My body doesn’t matter. I’m a ghost pilot in a meat robot.” In this vision, the body is a throwaway, inconsequential shell. Some even hope to replace it, change it, or upgrade it.

Even now the bodies of over 200 “patients” are in cryonic freezers. Some have not even preserved their whole body—only the head and brain. They, or their families, have faith future scientists will resurrect them, either healing their diseases or transferring their brains to new bodies. The patients include a two-year-old child, one of the founders of Bitcoin, and baseball Hall of Famer, Ted Williams. What a strange trio they would be…

Even if these hopes are realized in the future, Christianity has a greater hope, a greater view of the body, and a greater future. Our bodies are not meat robots for our souls. We are integrated beings. It is not just our soul that will be with the Lord. Our bodies, even after returning to dust, will be resurrected.

Paul tells the Corinthians that their bodies are “for the Lord.” He also says the Lord is “for our bodies.” Our bodies are essential to who we are and to our experience of and with God, both now and in eternity. Our bodies aren’t just physical matter. They matter cosmically, spiritually, for eternity.

It is foolish to dismiss the body. It is also foolish to enthrone our bodies above all. Like the Corinthians, some think whatever our body wants, it deserves. We don’t deserve or need everything we hunger for. Our body’s desires are not “rights.” Indiscriminately feeding fleshly hungers is always unhealthy and often evil.

Our bodies are not our own. In Christ, we are made one body with him. No Christian can say “What I do with my body only affects me,” because it affects Christ and everyone connected to him. No one can say, “My body is dishonorable, broken, and worthless,” because Christ valued our embodied self, dying for our souls and being resurrected for our bodies.

Our bodies are not beneath us like robot shells. Our bodies are not over us like rulers. Our bodies are not our own to abuse, harm, or dishonor. With our bodies, we present the embodiment of Christ to the world—to honor him through service and love to others.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. — Psalm 51.16

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 32 (Listen 5:22)
1 Corinthians 5 (Listen 3:03)

Read more about Inner Light of the Heart
Our bodies matter. Our spirit also matters. We are integrated beings—not solely spirit and not solely flesh.

Read more about Maintaining Sacred Space
Our bodies are our “tents” into which we invite the Holy Spirit of God, promised to us by Jesus.