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The first fifteen chapters of 1 Corinthians are filled with theological themes.  Tough issues are addressed directly.  The sparks are flying as the apostle wields his authority and speaks firmly against sin.

Rather than changing the tempo, Paul talks straight forward regarding finances at the church.  He does not shrink back from this topic, rather he is as bold as he has been throughout this epistle.  Every topic he has addressed with the Corinthians believers has been sensitive and this new theme is appropriate.

Paul announces the topic.  He has completed his other discourses.  Now, he changes the topic but keeps the apostolic authority moving. 

He is consistent in his instruction.  As he instructed the believers throughout Southern Galatia to handle the collection of finances with integrity and careful administratively accurate, so these Corinthians should do the same.  It is a matter of doing something properly.

The pattern for giving is clear.  On the first day of the week, which is Sunday, believers gather this is the designated time to collect their offerings.  This is a general pattern without rigid rules.

Giving is a personal act of worship.  No one is tell anyone else how to do this.  Rather, it is an act of praise that each believer gives to the Lord. 

The procedure is simple.  We set aside a sum of money that represents a percentage of our income.  If we are blessed with bounty, then our savings for giving should reflect that or visa versa.

We save and plan so that a visiting leader like Paul is not distracted or associated with the gathering of funds.  Paul wants to take pains never to be accused of financial meddling.  The implication is that everyone in the assembly will know that there will be no collections made when Paul is with them.

Paul will, however, openly associate with the faithful men who will transport the financial offerings to Jerusalem.  He is always invested in the integrity of men who serve.  Trustworthy men can be charged with responsibility of handling the church finances.

Money has a way of tempting men to steal.  Worldy appetites and ease of acquisition start the wheels turning in unscrupulous lives.  Even those who claim to be spiritually minded believers can be susceptible to theft. 

Character prevents this.  Paul has identified such trustworthy men.  He emphasizes this option by offering to accompany the men and offering himself.

1 corinthians 16.1-4

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We didn’t get home until late Sunday afternoon.  Meetings, people and other wonderful opportunities filled our hours.  Lunch was a half of a sandwich, but it was so good!

When we arrived at home, we crashed.  The sofa feels so good when you have been hoofing it all morning.  That soft  welcoming embrace did not fail me.

Together my bride and I talked over the blessings of the morning.  People came to mind.  Faces both familiar and new etched themselves in our memory.

Some times we laughed.  Other times we shared insights.  Pointedly we made notes to ourselves of follow-up ventures and conversations that we needed to have.

“Hey, look what time it is,” I casually commented. 
“What time is it?” Yvonne inquired with the same kind of relaxed conversation.
“It’s just after 5PM.”   I thought, “How time really does fly when you are having a good time.”
“What?!” Yvonne exclaimed.  “What time is your brother coming over?”
“Yeow!” I snapped to attention.  My memory some times fails me when I am juggling too many items. “6PM!”

Yvonne jumped up from her chair.  She was a whirlwind of housekeeping, talking about the needs for the night.  Her hospitality skills are a marvel.

I reached for the closet door.  A suitable jacket for our coolish Bay Area weather was half on.  Then, I hopped around slipping on my shoes.

“I’ll head to the store,” I announced.
“Great!  Grab some vegetables and bring home a dessert.  I’ve got the vacuum cleaner and will put on the rice,” she was very systematic in her list.

The garage door was already rising.  I love that convenient machine.  It’s opening the door while I’m jumping into the car.

Of course I drove the speed limit to our local grocery store.  Really, I did.  I can’t help it if the police car couldn’t keep up.

Once in the store the clerk helped me with the vegetables.  I wonder if I had the look of panic on my face and she had the gift of mercy.  Her help was ideal!

Over at the bakery, I noticed that at the end of the day the pickings were limited.  But, God’s sovereignty was at work again.  There were two pies left that made me smile. 

When I left, there was only one left.  We ate the other one.  It was just the four of us, but what a feast for four it was!

photo credit: google image

Who can live with cheer no matter how tough the circumstances? Karen can.  Who can get you to smile and laugh when the grey clouds cover you days, weeks and even months? Karen can.  Who can lighten your load because she reaches out and helps you bear your burden? Karen can.

My years in Michigan are marked with wonderful intersections with some quality people.  Karen was one of those special people.  She wins hearts and lives with cheer.

Admittedly, Karen had an advantage before I met her.  Her husband Tom was a friend and colleague.  We had many moments of ministry, conversation and bizarre episodes of fun.

But, Tom is unique.  He sweeps into lives of people with gusto and energy.  His sharp mind and life energy are supernatural.

I mused, “What kind of woman would be the wife of someone so remarkable like Tom?”  They must be laughing all of the time.  Would they ache from smiling so often?

Yvonne and I drove to their home for a party.  We parked in the lot which was their front lawn along with all of the other cars that transported their invitees.  Their home had a glow about it.

We walked toward the house and Edison bounded out to greet us.  He is their monster dog.  Like Tom and Karen he had endless energy and was not shy in sharing it.

At the door Tom and Karen welcomed us.  Karen greeted us for the first time and we her.  “It is so nice to meet you for the first time, the wife of the famous Tom Gitter.”

“Famous?” Karen slipped in without missing a step, “I believe you mean INfamous.”

We burst out in laughter with unanimous agreement.  That was the beginning of our friendship.  We discovered that Tom was the more reserved of the two!

Karen welcomed us into her life with the kind of hospitality of Biblical proportions.  Her closeness spiritually to the Savior touched so many lives with her listening ear, wise advice and encouraging spirit.  So many trusted her with their trials and she kept confidences that would make a vaults of Fort Knox appear as plastic toys.

Now, after a rigorous bout with cancer, Karen has graduated into the presence of our Heavenly Father forever.  We will miss her.  Heaven must have needed a good addition of everlasting cheer.  She is there.  Heaven is glowing even brighter.

photo credit: google image

Christopher spoke to a packed house.  I couldn’t see many empty seats.  A couple of empty single chairs were scattered throughout the auditorium. 

An excitement and energy were in the air.  I could see it in the animation of our youth.  Afterall, it was a high school crowd.

Our youth group had invited a few other youth groups to join us for a night of fellowship.  We would feature a young man sharing his journey out of darkness and into the light.  My youth pastor had sent me the transcript of the testimony and when I read it I was blown away.

When a human being lives his life on earth without the Savior, there is a closed heart toward spiritual things.  Guilt is justified and embraced with good answers, or at least answers that sound good.  An animosity forms and keeps building a wall, hardens the heart and the enemy feeds the awful character of pride.

As Christopher unfolded his testimony, it was real.  He was frank with his past, life lived for himself and his spiraling downward into a world of crime and lawlessness.  All who were listening were spiritually quiet.

Angela is his mother.  Her story added the perspective of maternal anguish but also a mother’s persistent prayers.  I was astonished with her tenacity.

Leon is his father.  Dad’s involvement and spiritual determination became a key feature in his story.  His own battles with marriage and disillusionment were stunning.

But it was Christopher’s humble spirit that amazed me the most.  He was not bragging about his sins.  Rather, he traced just enough of his past to convince us of his need for God’s mercy and grace.

I had read the testimony before I heard it.  Over the weekend I heard from “the horse’s mouth four times.  It sealed in my spirit the need to offer more often a word of invitation.

Yes, I want to have fewer and fewer people who have to say that they were alone.  When life is futile I don’t want to be perceived as aloof, uninterested or too busy.  By God’s grace I want to be there for those who are secretly hurting, quietly drowning in their helplessness or too afraid to ask for help.

The power of a testimony that was not exaggerated, gratuitously brash or colorized with shock value touches life.  It invites others to be as open.  It is the beginning of mercy.

photo credit: google image

My Incredible buzzed like an angry bee.  There was no rush. I ignored her.

Just like clock work my little tether vibrated an alert.  It was time for my doctor’s office visit.  Of course I didn’t want to go.  I never want to go.

This would be a short visit.  It was my blood draw day.  They would do their vampire deal and then I would be out of there.  Maybe I should walk in with a big cross and a wooden stake, eh?

Parking is simple if you don’t mind paying $2/hr for a metered space.  Or if you’re like me I park a block and a half away for free parking and walk.  The upside is that it is no extra cost; but the downside is that it is uphill on the way back.

Inside the sterile office, the staff was just as sterile. Not a lot of beside manner here.  Everyone there is so stoic, so I join the silence and wait my turn.

The door opens and I know it’s my turn.  Taking off my jacket I sit down while the nurse prepares the tools of torture.  That needle just seems to be bigger every time they stick it to me.

Today for the very first time in all the years of having blood drawn, I decided to watch her.  Looking away made good sense in the past.  I should have been more consistent.

After she tied down the rubber strap around my bicep, she told me to squeeze the rubber ball.  She pressed and pressed and pressed my inner arm.  No vessels popped up.

She slid the needle into my body.  I felt it go in.  The sensation matched the view that I had from where I sat.  I was seriously wondering if it was a good idea to watch.

No blood.  She withdrew the needle slightly and re-angled it and pushed it in again. Yes, I felt it but again there was no blood.  Again I thought, it was not a good idea to watch this.

She apologized, took the needle out and patched me up.  Then she went to my other arm.  The procedure was the same with the same dry results.

Then, she saw a vessel on the back of my hand.  This would work but it would be painful.  I waved her off like a brave man, “I’ll come back next week, drink a lot of water in between and we’ll try again, OK?

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“Hey, Sweetheart, where did we park the car?” I casually inquired.

The California sun was setting behind the hills. Long shadows from the tree-lined ridge were playing tricks on our eyesight. All of the cars in the Big Box parking lot sorta looked the same.

“Hmmm…I thought you would remember, Dear,” she cooed.
“Yeah, I know it was in this lot some where,” I tried to inject a little humor.
“Weren’t we over there, somewhere by the entrance,” she offered.
“No, I remember driving in and grabbing a great spot next to that Mazda Miata. Maybe if find that really boss car, then we can find ours,” my obvious oversight was becoming blatantly apparent.
“There it its!” Yvonne proudly announced.
“Well, I’d be happy to jump into that car. It’s a Lexus, Dear. Yours sorta looks like that one but at only a percentage of the cost. Nice try but with God’s sense of humor we’d be trying our keys and the rent-a-cop would nab us for grand larceny,” I was waxing eloquent.

We wandered around the parking lot for a while having great conversation while we systematically searched for our chariot. That’s when you wonder about staying put, letting everyone else drive home and then take what’s left in the lot.

“It’s a good thing we’ve never lost the car in a parking lot before tonight,” she tried to cheer us both up.
“At least not more than once a month, right?” I mused.

Both of us were chuckling. Our shopping cart rattle over the asphalt. People drove by us but no one could tell that we were hunting for our car.

Finally, my brain synapses were starting to fire in proper order. Flashes of a movie burst in my mind. I could visualize us driving into the lot.

We were close. I could feel it in my bones. The image of the parking lot and the open space that we nabbed with enthusiasm was coming into focus.

That’s when I made a sharp turn to the right. We hurried two aisles over. Then, we pushed toward the entrance of the lot.

We both smiled. We both laughed. There, right where we left it was our pick-up truck. Yeah, we didn’t even drive our car.

I think that I remember laughing at old people in my younger years when they forgot where they parked their cars. It’s a vague memory. Frankly, I’m not so sure that I ever did.

photo credit: google image

Yvonne and I were relishing in the day.  It was a day off after many many busy days in succession.  Our anticipation was not to be disappointed.

We parked our car near Pier 39.  It is a popular destination here in our grand city of San Francisco.  The energy from this happening place is electrifying. 

We were looking for a shopping area inside of a building that friends had taken Yvonne to early on in our relocation to this city.  However, we laughed that we didn’t know the name of the place.  Nor did we know for sure where we were going.

Nevertheless, we had plenty of company.  A lot of people were walking some where.  Maybe, just maybe they were heading to the same place we wanted to go.

We walked and walked some more.  After 1.2 miles we arrived.  It is called the Ferry Building.  People from all over the world joined us for the experience.  Some spoke German, others Spanish and of course Asian languages of every dialect could be heard.

Inside Yvonne found her second wind.  It’s woman-thing.  Shopping is an elixir for the fairer of mankind. 

I found a comfortable place to sit and called up for a recommended place for lunch.  I was surprised to see a strange name for a restaurant that was highly recommended right in the shopping complex where we were.  When Yvonne was done shopping I suggested that we try it for our mid-day meal.

We walked up when there were just two people in line ahead of us.  They wanted an outdoor seat but we were willing to do the next available.  We were seated right away.

After that we noticed that the line grew to at least a dozen people.  It never got shorter during the entire time that we were dining.  The place is popular.  We were to learn why.

Kelli was our server and she was as good as waitresses can get.  She was very helpful with her recommendatons.  The oyster selection was modest in number, six.  But, the flavor was out-of-this-world. 

She also suggested that we share a bowl of their clam chowder.  It was just as flavorful and delcious as the oysters.  This place was a five star experience from the beginning to the end.  If you like oysters and seafoo, you have got to try Hog Island Oyster Co. in the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero.

A common desire among us vulnerable mortals is the wonderment of immortality.  Is there a way to escape death?  Maybe it  is not so much death as dying that we hope to avoid.

On a positive note, the kingdom of God sounds very appealing.  If we could pass dying and just enter into eternity forever, that would suit most of us just fine.  It is more than possible but there is a catch.

Yes, there is always a “catch.”  But, this one is reasonable.  Eternity cannot be experienced with our bodies of flesh and blood. 

On one level that is intriguing.  Who wants these old wearing out shells of limited life?  But, we wonder if the transition to whatever we need can be so unpleasant that we would rather pass on such an option.

Before we hit the “no thanks” button, we can consider the apostle’s instruction a little more thoroughly.  The Bible makes it clear that our natural bodies cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That world of eternity is imperishable but clearly our physical bodies are perishable, vulnerable, definitely temporary.

But, there is very good news.  Not all of us will have to go through the transition of physical death.  Some will experience a once in a creation moment of transformation.

Jesus promised that He will come again and should we be so blessed to be a part of that moment our transformation into bodies that are prepared for eternity will happen in this life.  It will be a change that is instaneous when Jesus returns.  It is the wonder called the resurrection.

This miracle moment will give those people an immortal body, ready for entrance into heaven.  No longer will the limitations and break-down of our physical bodies be a concern. Instead, the trappings of death are no longer a reality.

The agony of death is now eliminated.  It is a victory.  The sting of death is no longer a threat.

This reality of death and our physical vulnerability to suffering is all related to the issue of sin.  Jesus Christ takes care of our sin.  Anyone who accepts Him as their Savior will overcome it.

Followers of Jesus must live by the conviction of eternal life.  They should prove that by their tireless service.  They are driven with the motivation that their labor will have eternal impact.

1 corinthians 15.50-58

photo credit: brucefong photography

Our busy lives don’t always have time to contemplate the eternal.  Afterall, stuff gets in the way.  I’m not trying to trivialize what fills each day of our life, but we get distracted by what is right in front of our faces and overlook what can be an investment into eternity.

Then, I get an email with bad news.  A friend has been diagnosed with cancer.  Tests and treatment suddenly take the place of family picnics, vacations and hobbies. 

More bad news flows.  A marriage is reaching its breaking point.  None of us who are their friends knew.

National and world news stations are not a part of my daily regimen.  They just keep pumping out the bad news.  Civil war, cataclysmic natural disasters, national leaders at odds, threats of war, disasters pending economic tensions all take their turn to beat us down about life on this earth.  While I read the news of our nation and world instead of watch or listen, it leaks into my day no matter how hard I try.

There is a potency that is much larger than the pain of this life.  Hope has not died just because the cacophony of bad news escalates with each passing hour.  This is not pollyanish either.

Eternity has a staying power that is not noisy.  Truth that lasts has forever taken care of the source of trouble in this life.  Whether it is personal trouble, natural disaster or national ire all that is bad has its roots in the problem of sin.

If a problem can be resolved at its source, then, that problem can be laid to rest.  Problem solving can be simplified into a three-step process.  First, realize that a problem exists.  Second, recognize what the problem is.  Finally, take steps to resolve the problem.

It is a busy, complicated and over-saturated world that distracts us from step one.  Instead of realizing that a problem exists, matters are shifted by misplacing blame, surrendering to fate or going from trouble to trouble overwhelming people with a sense of helplessness.  Then, the problem of sin is never addressed.

Jesus Christ resolved the problem of sin and by grace applied mercy to those of us who will believe.  Then, He grows that relationship to surpass the temporary troubles brought on by sin.  That way even the worst of human experiences can be viewed as “for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1.6).

photo credit: brucefong photography

It’s summer and the local Canadian geese population is scattered throughout our neighborhood.  Whether I’m driving off to work, working out in the yard or strolling through our many walking paths, the geese are there.  In the past several weeks it has been especially fun to watch these comical critters.

This is family time for these birds.  Eggs hatched some time ago.  That was all in private.  But, soon after that a pair of geese would parade their family of fluffy down chicks for all the world to see.

They aren’t quiet about it.  The chicks are constantly chirping away.  Ma and Pa, Goose and Gander, proudly strut their stuff.  Flight is a ways off, so these feathered friends are grounded for a few weeks. 

When it comes time to cross a road, these birds don’t use crosswalks or time their movements with signal lights. They just go.   Most of the time traffic stops to let the fowls waddle across the asphalt.  The geese cackle away like they have a right to be insulting to the world.  It is laughable.

But, most hurried humans melt when the little goslings scurry after mom and dad in single file accordion style march.  Surely their chirping sounds chaotic but it must be music to their parents’ ears.  Ever alert for danger the parents keep their eyes looking for all threats while keeping their ears on all of their offspring.

Ma and Pa settle down to foraging for insects in the grass. Their brood of down covered babies copy the example.  It’s not long before the little ones are full and they squat down for a rest.

It’s not long before their full tummies and warm sun combine to put these little feathered friends into sleep mode. It’s nap time for the little ones.  That is fine, since Ma and Pa are ever vigilant for danger.

That’s when the offspring of a human couple got too close.  He was fascinated by the cute and cuddly creatures.  There was a look on his face to carry one of these special birds.

Mama gosling would have nothing to do with this intruder of another species.  She raced toward her offspring, wings flared and head bobbing front to back in a menacing way.  This bird was honking loudly as she narrowed the gap between her and the human child.

Two mothers guarding their young.  Both confident.  Neither would back down.  It was an amazing sight.

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