The Early Church: Living in an Over-Sexualized Society

My #BibleReadingPlan has me starting 2 Corinthians today. A little background on 2 Corinthians can be found here.  To get a better understanding of Paul’s audience I wanted to do some research on Corinth and the church.

Corinth was a town in Greece, located 48 miles west of Athens, on an isthmus between the Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean Sea. It was a wealthy trade city and home to a temple for Aphrodite. If you studied Greek gods in 7th grade, you’ll remember Aphrodite as the goddess of sexual love and beauty. The temple was full of slaves – some estimates as many as 1,000 men and women – who worked as temple prostitutes. The trade ports and prostitution made Corinth a very wealthy city.Ακροκόρινθος / Acrocorinth - Corinth

By the time Paul arrived, the city had been devastated by an earthquake and invasion – and rebuilt – and the prostitution had left the crumbling temple and moved into the streets. It was known as a city where sailors would stop to party. Think if Amsterdam and Las Vegas met up and had a baby . . . you’d have Corinth. The Greek word korinthiazethai had two meanings: 1) to live in Corinth and 2) to get drunk and indulge in sexual pleasures.

This was a city that not only had a culture of living for sensual pleasure – but it also made it’s living off of it and got very rich in the process. The goddess many of the people worshipped demanded it.

So Paul arrives in this city and starts telling people about Jesus. He goes to Aphrodite worshipers and tells them about Jesus. He shares the gospel with people who are sleeping around, cheating on their spouses, practicing homosexuality. He tells the drunk on the street. He tells the greedy hustler who is making money of the sex tourist industry. He tells the people who are known for yelling and cussing at everyone.

This was the church of Corinth. People who met Jesus right where they were – whether in the middle of hustle or coming off a hangover from a night of partying. And Jesus washed them clean from their sin. Sanctified them. Gave them a new life. Justified them, regardless of their past.

‘Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ‘ 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

This was like a church in the middle of the Vegas strip made up of Christians who had formerly worked on the strip, got rich off the strip, slept around and got drunk on the strip. Corinth was full of people who lived for sensual pleasure and whose religion even called for it. But now these Christians were washing clean and were learning a new way to live through Jesus, which makes Paul’s teaching even more impactful:

‘”All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful.

“All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?

For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. ‘ 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 

The people of Corinth understood temples – the ruins of a temple stood on a hill overlooking their city. They also understood slavery and what it meant to be bought with a price. They understood prostitution as it was a major industry in their city.

But Jesus was calling them to a different lifestyle. And He was also giving them the power – through the Holy Spirit – to be changed. He had died for them. And He was asking them to live for Him.

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Who am I to the World?

I’ve just started a Bible study by A Fruitful Woman (check out her blog – she’s an awesome writer with a beautiful heart for Jesus), and assignment #1 is to journal my story. So I figured I’ll make a blog out of it and accomplish my blogging goal (which I am way behind on. Don’t read my post where I said I was going to post twice a week. I might need to change that to twice a month!)

So . . . here is my story.

I grew up in a conservative, “Christian” home in middle America. I fluctuated between being homeschooled and attending Christian schools, we didn’t have a TV, we listened to Christian music. We went to a very legalistic church. I had prayed the “salvation prayer” a million times out of fear of hell, and I considered myself a Christian, but did I really trust God? No. Was I following Him? No. Did I love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind? No.

In high school, we moved to another town and I started public school. We also changed churches to a more Jesus-centered church. It was a good move. I made great friends and I stayed out of trouble. But when it came to Jesus, my heart was confused. I still believed being a Christian meant how modest I dressed (or didn’t), what music I listened to, what shows I watched. Was I out drinking or smoking pot, or was I at youth group?

I’d read my Bible or devotional books occasionally, but I wasn’t seeking God.

Like most teens, I was insecure. I felt out-of-place because of my home school roots. I had acne. Money was tight. And things were starting to crumble at home. I knew my parents were heading to a divorce.

It wasn’t all bad. My mom was my rock. My siblings were wonderful humans (not that I would have admitted it at the time). I had good friends. I had a job. I was doing well at school.

But, I was hurting and empty inside, trying to follow all the rules to be a “Christian”. I  still wasn’t seeking God.

And then I found what I thought would be my escape: a guy. I got married young, just a few years out of high school. I won’t go into all the details, but it was a hot mess. I was a terrible wife. He wasn’t a great husband. We fought. A lot. And still, in the middle of the chaos, I wasn’t seeking God.

My personal life was messy. My spiritual life was non-existent, even though I went to church every Sunday, taught Sunday school, etc. But there was one area I excelled – work. I wanted more than anything to be successful in my career. I wanted to be financially secure. I was juggling work, college, and a crumbling marriage. Since I sucked at marriage, I focused all my energy on school and career. By age 23, I graduated Summa Cum Laude while working full-time at a job in my field. I had a 401(k), a house, a dog, and a new car. I was set.

By 25 I was divorced.

But I still didn’t seek God.

By 28 I was remarried. My priorities were 80% career, 10% marriage, 8% other, 2% God. We went to church and I went to occasional Bible studies. I prayed. But I wasn’t seeking God.

By 29, I was a Mom, but my priorities still didn’t really shift that much. My focus was still on my career and building a nest egg. If anything my career was still 80% of my focus, 15% kids, 4% husband and whatever was left-over went to God and other “priorities.” Thankfully, my second marriage was much better than my first. My kids were easy. Life was good. But God wasn’t my top priority. Not even close.

By 36, this life I was trying desperately to build came tumbling down. My career was extremely successful, but I was working from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., 6 days a week. I was never home. My husband was raising our kids by himself while struggling with his own inner demons. He couldn’t take it anymore. Things went from bad to worse. We ended up separating. My daughter was having panic attacks. I was a mess.

And I finally started to seek God. 

I pulled out my Bible and didn’t just read it to check something off my Christian to-do list. I opened it for answers. I opened it to find my savior.

There wasn’t some life-altering, noticeable change in me, but slowly God started to work in my life. He started to re-arrange my priorities. I started to see my husband and children with different eyes. I  started to really work at my marriage. I started to see Jesus, not just as a destination after death, but a daily companion.

At age 37, I attended a Bible study about finding God’s mission for my life. I went into the study thinking God was going to call me to some huge mission or massive undertaking. But God had a different message for me. He showed me my mission field: my husband and children.

At age 40, I “fired” all my clients, let all my employees go, and shut down my office. I read the entire Bible. I started my blog, “Becoming Mary”. I started making my time with Jesus my #1 priority. And He, in turn, has been changing me.

I’ll be 42 years old this year. I’m still a work in progress. If I go a day or two without reading the Bible my husband and kids can tell as I fall back into my old patterns. I still have to remind myself regularly to focus on the mission field God gave me, rather than chasing shiny career goals. I need reminders that I am not defined by my career, or lack of it. I am not defined by marriage or divorce. I am not defined by motherhood or the successes or failures of my children. I am not defined by the church I attend or my good works.

I am defined by my savior.

And when I go to bed at night and mull over my day, the question isn’t what I accomplished or failed to accomplish. But, was I faithful?

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ Matthew 6:33

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. Luke 10:39-42 

 

 

 

Transformation by Time Spent with Jesus

Everyone has sins they struggle with. On any given day, the main areas I struggle with are being patient, being respectful of my husband, not losing my temper, and controlling my tongue. And occasionally lust depending on the time of the month and if I happen upon a movie starring Channing Tatum, Idris Elba, or Zac Efron.

For years I thought, “I’m a Christian, so I shouldn’t struggle with sin so much. Why doesn’t God just take my sin and temptation away?” If God washes our sin away when we become saved then why do I end up gossiping on a regular basis? Why am I not overcoming sin?  Why am I still yelling at my kids? Why do I get so frustrated? Why am I not more like Jesus?

Then one Sunday in church I heard a word I’d heard a million times before, but for the first time, the concept stuck: Sanctification. Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Jesus . . . moving from a life of sin to a life that is holy. For the majority of people this isn’t an overnight thing, but a gradual daily transformation. Little by little. We become more like Jesus.

How does Sanctification happen? It doesn’t happen by saying a quick prayer or even going to church on Sunday. It happens by spending time with Jesus every day. Reading the Bible. Praying. Worshiping God. Memorize Bible verses and meditating on them. Fasting. That is all I need to do – keep my mind focused on Jesus and spend time with him every day. He’ll do the rest.

I’ve experienced this in my own life. I’m changing . . . ever so gradually. I still get mad. I still gossip. I still sin. But not as much. And the temptation isn’t as great as it used to be. And I can guarantee you I can’t take any credit for the changes in my attitude and behavior because I’ve tried to make changes myself and nothing worked long-term. I’ve gone to counseling, read self-help books, even joined support groups. Sure, I learned some helpful tools and had some accountability, but never experienced any deep heart transformation.

Until I started having coffee with Jesus every morning.

Then everything changed. Not overnight. Not anything noticeable to anyone but me (at first). But the old me has started dying. I leave a little piece of the old me behind every morning when I meet with Jesus. And I leave my daily time with Jesus with a little more of Him in me.

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  John 17:17 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2 

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,  1 Peter 2:2

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, Deuteronomy 11:18-20 

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.  1 Timothy 4:7-10

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Am I Loving?

Using 1 Corinthians 13 as a Barometer of my Love Life

#DailyBibleReading

The love passage.  One of three Bible chapters I have ever memorized (along with Psalm 23 and Matthew 5). It is a beautiful passage about love and about what really matters in life.

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But what does it look like in practical terms?

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1‭-‬3 NLT

I can go to church and spout Bible verses and knowledge; but if I am not loving the people in the church it doesn’t matter.

I can go to Bible studies and spend time reading the Bible and praying, but if it never penetrates my heart and changes me . . . there is a serious problem.

I can write a check to a charity or volunteer at a food pantry, but if I turn around and am mean to my husband and kids and co-workers, my “good deeds” don’t count.

The number one “good deed” that God wants to see – and that should be naturally flowing out of me if I am spending time with Jesus and focusing my attention on Him – is Love. Not perfect love because we aren’t going to be perfect until heaven. But if God is filling us we should gradually be becoming more loving.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 NLT

I don’t think these verses are a threat or a list of actions for us to attempt, but more of a barometer for us to examine ourselves. Is Jesus’s love in us, flowing out to others?  Over years spent with Jesus, am I becoming more loving? Am I becoming more like the list above?

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
1 Corinthians 13:11‭-‬12 NLT

Like a child growing up, change doesn’t happen right away. And I won’t be perfected until after death, but right now I should be becoming more like Jesus. If I am spending time with him on a daily basis, praying, doing spiritual disciplines like memorizing Bible verses, fasting, and meditating; I should be maturing. And the best way to tell if I am maturing? If I am becoming more loving.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.                                           1 Corinthians 13:8-10

When reflecting on my life, if I see I am becoming a more loving person I know I am on track.

If I don’t see growth in this area – if I am not becoming more loving or if I am going backwards –  I need to make adjustments in my life and make sure I am spending my time, mental focus and energy on what matters most: Jesus. Reading the Bible, praying, praising him and meditating on his words. I can’t change myself to become more loving, but when I am full of Jesus, his love will natural seep out of me.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT

 

 

Lessons from the Olive Tree

Did you know there are olive trees alive today that are estimated to be between 2,000 – 4,000 years old?  There are trees at the Mount of Olives who some believe may have been there when Jesus prayed in the garden.  Pretty incredible.  Makes we want to plan a trip to visit the Holy Land!

I’ve never given olives or olive trees much thought (expect when contemplating going on a Mediterranean diet which sounds completely wonderful . . . except that anything with the word “diet” tends not get past mental contemplation for me).  But as I was doing my morning Bible reading I read a verse that stuck out to me:

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.  Psalm 52:8 NIV

I love this image that David created in this Psalm.  “An olive tree flourishing in the house of God.”  I can just picture it – a beautiful tree in God’s garden.  So I dug a little deeper into this verse as well as other verses about olive trees and branches in both the Old Testament New Testament, as well as from a historical perspective.  The Bible is full of references to olives and olive trees:

  • The olive was a major agriculture product in Israel.  In addition to food, the oil was used for cooking, lighting lamps, sacrifice and anointing.
  • When Noah was on the ark, looking for dry land, he sent out a dove.  The dove returned with an olive leaf in his beak which was a sign to Noah that the flood was receding.  It symbolized that God was done with his judgement and the world was coming back to life.
  • When two battling enemies were ready to make peace they would extend an olive branch between them to show they were done fighting.
  • In Romans 11:17-21, Paul referred to Gentiles as wild olive shoots, being grafted into Israel.  He said:

    “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”  

  • Not necessarily an olive tree, but I love this picture that Jesus creates in John 15:

    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

There are so many more verses that reference olives, trees, and branches . . . and so many lessons to be learned.

How to Be a Flourishing Olive Tree

  1.  Be Planted in Good Soil:  Jesus told a parable of a man scattering seeds that landed on different types of ground – a path, rocks, thorns and in good soil. I can relate to each of these  – sometimes I think I’ve been each of them in the span of a week! What does it mean to be good soil? Jesus explains in Mark 4:20: “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”  Read the Bible, believe it, and apply what it says.
  2. Stay in the Vine: How do we bear fruit?  Jesus says it is by staying in the “vine”. Spending time reading the Bible.  Praying.  Meditating.  Fasting.  I even love meditating on John 15 and picturing myself as branch attached to Jesus.  If I am spending time with Jesus and applying what I learn from him I will naturally bear fruit.
  3. Let your Light Shine: The fruit of an olive tree is an olive.  When crushed, olives produce olive oil.  Olive oil had many uses in the Bible, including lighting a lamp. In Matthew 5, Jesus said:  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
  4. Accept Pruning:  God is my gardener.  And sometimes I need pruned.  I need to get rid of bad influences and bad habits.  I need to cut sin out of my life.  I need disciplined.  And I need to understand that God does it because he loves me and it will help me mature as a Christian.

Let’s follow David’s lead.  Let’s become Olive Trees.  Flourishing.  Trusting God.  And going deep into the vine of Jesus.

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