Weekly Reflections



King's Cross Anglican Church Tucson

3 Year Lectionary

by Jennifer Callaway

SPEAK WISELY

Prov 24:1-12; Ps 54; Jas 3:16-4:6; Mark 9:30-37

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (Jas 3:6)

            I am so disheartened by the growing hostility and polarization in our country today. Social media, which has so much potential for good and is in fact used for good in many ways, is one example. People who would never speak unkindly to one another in person seem to transform behind the keyboard. It’s as if we think the words we write have no impact.

            More than that, this uncivil discourse is creeping in to the way we speak to one another. The words that come out of our mouths may be worldly wise, meaning we are sure we have the right answer, and that we’re clever and bold. But are they godly wise? Look at James’ words above; pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. This is the wisdom from above.

            Many of us are not always merciful, or impartial. In fact, we are so sure we are right that we say whatever works for us, without thought to the image bearer to whom we’re saying it. A lovely Christian lady I spoke with recently confessed that she has struggled with shouting at the television because of the lies she hears spoken, and she wondered whether that was wrong if the person she was shouting at couldn’t hear what she said. We decided that ultimately, the words she spoke would affect her own heart more each time she expressed them. So yes, it matters.

            We are called to be peacemakers for God! Is there a more important agenda than that in our lives? Can we be peacemakers if we speak war? I suppose God can use anything, and He does. But won’t it be so much better if we cooperate with Him?

Click on the picture to watch a very short video that will make you smile. Then ask yourself, am I the dogs with the door open, or the door shut?

memorial stones

Isa 50:4-9 Ps 116:10-16; James 2:1-18; Mark 9:14-29

     Psalm 116 is a memorial stone to me. Like the stones that Joshua set up at the Jordan to mark God’s faithfulness, when I read it I am reminded of His faithfulness in the darkest days of my life.

            In the last year of my mother’s life, I was consumed with anxiety. As I watched her slowly dying, suffering with every breath she took, I took on her suffering in ways that made me physically ill. And as I confronted her mortality, and realized my own, I clung to God’s word in order to survive. The Psalms in particular gave me hope, and peace, and strength to apply my faith to my fear, and keep going.

            After her death I was in a study of the Psalms, and on the first anniversary of her death this Psalm was the subject of study. As I read it, I saw how faithful God had been. As death surrounded my family, and I thought I would die, “I called on the name of the Lord “Lord save me!’”(vs4). Verse 8 goes on to say “For You, Lord, delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” He delivered all of us; my mother received the ultimate healing, I faced my greatest loss and all the fear that went with it. And because of all he did, I could ask with the Psalmist, “What shall I return to the Lord for all His goodness to me?”

            He was there through all of it, and when the next line in the Psalm said “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” It was as if He were reaching out to me and saying He knew the loss I felt, and He wasn’t ashamed of my fear. He had ‘loosed my bonds.’(vs 16).  So here I lift up the cup of salvation and call on His name; I pay my vows to the Lord, in the presence of all His people.’(vs 13-14). That is my memorial stone. What is yours?

~Write out the story of your memorial stone, a reminder of God’s presence and faithfulness. And share it with meJ. Or somebody.

PURE LOVE

Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:31-37

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (Jam 1:26-27)

            There was a strong theme of healing in our readings this week, so I was a little surprised to find myself drawn to James’ letter and it’s strong admonitions about ‘hearing’ and ‘doing’ the word. Then I started thinking about healing in all its forms, and it clicked.

            There are all kinds of healing, and there is not one person on earth without wounds and scars that need the touch of Christ. A widow in that day was in the most desperate of situations if she had no other family to care for her, and orphans were no better off.

            Whether they were physically sick or not, they had deep need for healing; they needed love, they needed home, they needed to know that they mattered. Ironically, as the ones most in need, they were also the easiest to overlook. There’s no audience to see whether we care for them or not. There’s no glory in serving those who are invisible to the world.

            This is what makes such service pure. God sees, and knows, and He alone matters. There’s no reward that you can see here and now. That pure action leads to a pure heart, which has its own reward. Remember what Jesus said? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” That sounds like a good reward.

~If God gave you the task of caring for “the least of these” without anyone ever knowing you had done it, how would you respond?

immovable

Deut 4:1-9; Ps 15; Eph 6:10-20; Mark 7:1-23

The collect this week reminded us that God’s grace goes before us and behind us, keeping us able to do good works. But what does that kind of grace look like in action? As you read the readings, you’ll notice that each deals with a different form of grace God has given us to make walking this life with Christ possible. Never easy, you notice! But always possible.

            First He gives us the grace of knowledge(Deut). He taught the people all the statutes and rules they needed to do and be what He was calling them to be. He continues that to this day through His word. We know all that we need to know in order to follow Him. One distraction we can avoid in this realm of grace is to spend too much time trying to know things we don’t need to know, to try to prepare for future realities rather than living with Him in our present realities. We can trust Him to take care of us in the future as well as in the present. That is grace.

            Second, we see the grace of obedience. The Psalmist doesn’t claim a long list of do’s and don’ts. The list illustrates a simple life of integrity, kindness, and generosity. These are basic tenets of decency; there’s not a minimum list of people we must witness to, or mission trips we should take, or mandatory church attendance. We know right from wrong; this points to our ability to live it. That is grace.

            Third, we see the grace of protection(Eph). God does not leave us to fight these battles alone! And prayer is the most intense battle we fight as Christians, the good we struggle most to do. The enemy is as real as the Savior, and though the war is decided, the battle will only grow more intense. This passage tells us exactly how we are protected, and reciting the armor pieces you wear make them no more real than they are already. Though our bodies die, we are safe as we stand side by side against the enemy, and we live in victory. That is grace.

            Finally, we have the grace of Jesus. In Him, we are no longer defiled by anything, whether it goes into us or comes out of us. We have been purified and cleansed by His blood, and though we still sin, His death has covered that. That is grace.

            So, how then do we live? With gratitude, not guilt. Though we still confess our sin, it is for keeping us pure. Though we still have doubt and confusion at times, we know that it will all come right, because He said so. Though we are sometimes afraid of the world we see around us, we have protection that unbelievers do not. And above all, we have Jesus. What greater grace do we need?

decisions, decisions

Josh 24:1-2a,14-25; Ps 16; Eph 5:15-33; John 6:60-69

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’”

            From Joshua’s challenge of Israel to “choose this day whom you will serve” to the challenges Christ presented to His disciples on the road to Jerusalem, a decision is presented to those who would serve God. It’s a pattern; first comes a commitment to be faithful and an announcement of it. And every single one of us means it when we say it. I truly believe we all want to be faithful to Christ.

            But then, life happens. We face the frailty of our own flesh, enemies that seem overpowering, and doubts about what God can do to rescue us from certain destruction. So, we compromise. We censor our own beliefs and look for other solutions to problems only God can solve. Walking wisely, as Paul admonishes the Ephesians to do, feels dangerous and too uncertain, so instead we run to and fro looking for answers only He can give. And only when all else fails do we pray.

            Choosing whom we will follow is not only a one-time decision. Each day takes on its own trouble, as Jesus said. And for every trouble, big and small, we face this same dilemma again. Will I trust God, or will I try to figure this out alone? And if I’m going to trust God, what does trusting Him in this case look like?

            The Bible doesn’t have a FAQ page, or a chart that says, ‘if this happens, do that.’ But it is overflowing with the wisdom of God and His principles for living in a way that honors Him. Sometimes His wisdom comes in the form of a parable, or a proverb. Other times it comes from the words Jesus speaks as He confronts every work of the flesh and the law and compares it to the heart that loves God and loves our neighbor. Sometimes it even comes in the form of the stories we read about heroes and villains in the historical books.

            It is layered and complex, and none of us will ever reach the bottom of it. We will reach the bottom of ourselves, though. That is why keeping His word close at hand, in our heart, in our mind, in our mouth, is so important. When every resource is spent and we still haven’t found the answers, we still have the Source.          Choose Him today.

eat wisely

Prov 9:1-6; Ps 147; Eph 5:3-14; John 6:53-59

Wisdom and folly. Light and dark. Life and death. Evil and good. Contrasts make up much of our readings this week, just as they make up our own lives. Many of life’s decisions can be easily fit into categories of right and wrong. The Bible is full of commands that make it clear, murder is wrong, stealing is wrong, lying is wrong.

            But what if you are lying to save a life, as Rahab did? What if reasons for killing and stealing go far beyond such simple categories, to include war, self defense, and preventing starvation? Then, right and wrong goes from black and white to all sorts of shades of gray. In those times we need wisdom, not just a list of dos and don’ts.

            To make matters worse, real life is rarely that dramatic. It may come down to knowing how to handle a situation that has no clear guidelines. Wouldn’t it be lovely if the Bible had a specific plan for every decision we face in life? Is it wrong to buy a new car if I have the money? Is it right for me to leave a friendship that’s less than healthy? How do I make decisions when there is no clear Biblical mandate one way or the other?

            In Father Lee’s homily this week, he talked about the importance of eating. Not food, but the Bread of Life. It sparked my imagination as I thought about the complex world we are living in and the decisions we face every day that have repercussions far beyond our waistline and health. The mountains of information we receive every day and the free intermingling of truths, half-truths, opinions, and outright misinformation can leave us overwhelmed. What is truth? What is wisdom?

            This is where we have an advantage over all those who are swimming upstream in a cascade of information. There is one Truth, and He is a Person. His principles guide our decisions better than a step-by-step situation guide. His hope gives us emotional stability to make decisions out of faith, not fear. His Spirit alive in each of us makes discernment possible as we seek for answers. And it is His wisdom that will teach us all we need to know.

   “When your words came, I ate them.”(Jer 15:16). “Oh, taste and see, that the Lord is good.”(Ps 34:18) How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”(Ps 119:103). “Eat and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you.”(Eze 3:3). This is just a sample of all the Bible has to say about the importance of making His word a part of our whole being. What are you feeding on these days?

LIVING AS ONE

Deut 8:1-10; Ps 34:8-15; Eph 4:17-5:2; John 6:37-51

            Last week I talked about the attitudes that “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Since attitudes lead to our actions, it seems natural to talk about the acts described in Ephesians that protect unity in the Body. Paul gives a fairly extensive but nowhere near exhaustive list in Ephesians 4:25-32. I won’t print it all here but I highly encourage you to stop and read it right now. Then read on...

            This list simplified: tell the truth; deal with anger in a swift and constructive way, knowing that schisms open a door for the devil to do great damage; do honest work and be generous with your earnings; speak words that build people up instead of tearing them down; be forgiving, peace loving and avoid revenge; treat others kindly and never forget the forgiveness God has given you in Christ so that you will humbly forgive others. And throughout the passage he places reminders of the attitudes that lead to these actions; love, forgiveness, kindness, grace, and gratitude.

            What does this look like in the day-to-day life of the church? I can think of many small and large situations that require practicing unity maintenance. When you disagree with a church decision or the actions of another church member in day-to-day encounters, it means praying for wisdom and insight to determine whether it’s worth bringing up at all; if not, ask the Lord to give you love and forgiveness. Also spend some time in self-reflection, and ask the Lord to show you your own fault in the situation. Then repent of anything He points out.

            If it is worth mentioning, speak directly to the one that has offended, rather than telling others about it. It also must be done with self-control; many a relationship has been lost in a storm of out-of-control anger. These are just a fraction of the ways and situations in which we practice unity.

            Above all, forgive, forgive, and forgive. Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and bitterness affects the whole body. It is an infection that can kill. We each have a responsibility to pursue the health of the Body by cleansing such wounds. Think of your relationships that might need 'unity maintenance.' Will you do the work?

oneness

Ex 16:2-15; Ps 78:14-26; Eph 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

            Ever since my first study of Ephesians, I’ve had a vision of unity in the church that I long to see expressed. I love this topic so much, in fact, that I asked to teach on it at our women’s retreat last year. It was only as I prepared for that teaching I realized what I had gotten myself into. It is relatively easy to talk about what our unity in Christ actually is. It’s real beyond our perceptions of reality and it encompasses us all, every believer in the world, in America or China, in Europe or Russia. The problem is, how do we apply that truth in the daily life of the church? Though it’s nowhere near exhaustive, this passage gives us some clues about our unity. It starts in the way we think about one another and ourselves.

            First, Paul reminds us that we don’t need to bring unity. Christ has already done that. He exhorts us to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Notice the word “maintain.” Then he goes on to explain that we are  “one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. We all have all of these. So we are one because of Christ. Therefore, the way we treat one another affects ourselves as much as it does the other. If I hurt you, I hurt me, and vice versa. Caring for one another is caring for us in this mindset.

            He also gives instruction on the attitudes that lead to this kind of caring. We must act in “all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Humility means thinking more about others than yourself. Gentleness means kindness, tenderness and mercy. Patience means “long-suffering,” like God’s patience for us. And “love” comes from the Greek word agape, the same word used to describe God’s perfect love for us. This is a love that cares about the wellbeing of the loved person above all else.

            So, if you and another believer come to disagreement, how do you maintain unity? There are very few things over which we would break fellowship with another believer if we have this attitude. If it’s a disagreement over knowledge, humility comes into play; none of us knows what we are right or wrong about. The list of non-negotiables is short. There is room in understanding God’s word for many different views apart from Who Jesus is and why He came.

            If you disagree about styles and colors and sounds and sights, be “eager to maintain unity.” This means recognizing that your preferences are just that—preferences. Making principles out of preferences has caused more harm in the church than any serious doctrinal issue ever did. So ask yourself “is this worth breaking our unity over?”

            And in everything, love with God’s love. Lay down your life for unity with your brothers and sisters. 

DISCIPLING

2 Kings 2:1-15; Ps 114; Eph 3: 8-21; Mark 6:45-52

I love the story of Elijah and Elisha. Three times in this passage, Elijah told Elisha to stay put while he went on. Three times Elisha refused. He said  “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” And when the prophets following them warned him that Elijah was about to leave, he said “I know. Keep quiet.” He knew it was time for him to be alone, and he didn’t want to face it until he absolutely had to.

         But the inevitable happened; when it came time, Elijah blessed him and released him. Elisha delayed accepting it as long as he could, but when it came he asked for what only God could give him.

         I think there are some lessons for us in this beautiful story. First, disciples are meant to go out on their own, to make more disciples. Elijah and Elisha were a dynamic duo, but they had power that could much better be used when each was alone, for a specific place and a specific time. Elijah’s time was over and he knew it. He didn’t cling to position or power, but replaced himself by making sure that Elisha had all he needed to be God’s voice after him. Then he gently kicked Elisha out of the nest.

         Second, it is not our responsibility to decide exactly what their ministry will look like. Elijah knew he did not have the authority to give a double portion of the Spirit to Elisha. Only God could do that. He did get that double portion but Elijah didn’t take credit for it. Instead, he directed Elisha where to look to see if God would grant that‑if he could see the chariots, he would get it. The bigger principle here ties in with Paul’s prayer in Ephesians; he was ‘filled with all the fullness of God.’ And because he saw the things of heaven, he knew God, not Elijah, had given it to him.

         Third, when we are the one going out, we will have some level of anxiety. It will seem too soon; we will doubt we are prepared; we will feel alone and abandoned. It’s at that moment that all the effort that has been poured into us will bear fruit. We will lean on the Jesus we have come to know and trust. We will begin to gather new Christ followers to walk alongside. We will pray for them. And when God tells us they’re ready, we will let them go. This is how our faith is passed on. We have over 2000 years of history to remind us that God is greater.

         Most of us have been on both sides of these relationships. It’s hard work. It’s time consuming and frustrating and even heartbreaking. But it is our calling. It’s you and me, in our daily lives with the saints we spend time with. Jesus said “Go into the world and make disciples.” We can introduce them to Him. Pray for them. And walk with them. Finally, let them go. They’ll be ready to multiply, and the Word will go forth.

one CREATed

Isa 57:14-21; Ps 22:23-31; Eph 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-44

            When God first spoke to Abraham, (Gen 12), He promised that He would bless Abram and his people, and that all nations would be blessed through them. The passage we have in Ephesians this week explains exactly how that would be fulfilled.

            By this time, Jews and Gentiles (any non-Jews), were at best uneasy neighbors and at worst warring with each other. There were exceptions, but the idea that God wanted to bless the world through the Jews wasn’t something they cared about. In fact, they could be so hostile to the Gentiles that it’s been said there was a sign on the Temple wall that divided the Jewish worshippers and the Gentile worshippers that said, “No foreigner is allowed to enter within the balustrade surrounding the sanctuary and the court. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his ensuing death.” This is so blunt it’s funny. But they were all too serious. The Jews had forgotten that they were to be an instrument of God’s blessing to the world.

            So was the coming of Christ just about calling the Jews to accountability and making them do the right thing? No, it was so much more than that. According to this passage, Jesus “is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

            In Christ every person, regardless of their race ethnicity or economic status, is reconciled first to God, and then to one another. We are one in Christ. This is not about preferences, or denominations, or doctrinal differences. If we believe in the True Person of Christ, we are in Him. If they believe in the True Person of Christ, they are in Him. Therefore, we are in one another in Christ. We are one. This is not something we have to make happen, it is the fact of this new creation in Christ.

            When we practice disunity, especially over such nonessentials as we like to fight over, we are harming all of us who call on His name. Paul called this behavior out starkly in his letter to the Galatians, saying “But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” He also gives an antidote to conflict in the surrounding verses, saying “Walk by the Spirit,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

            Our world is weary of conflict. Christ came to bring reconciliation and peace, first within the church and then through the church to the world. Loving each other in the Spirit means loving Christ. How can you love a brother or sister today?

~Think of a believer with whom you have a broken relationship. What can you do to reconcile with them today?

TRUE TREASURE

Amos 7:7-15; Ps 85; Eph 1:1-14; Mark 6:7-13

John D. Rockefeller was the founder of the Standard Oil Company and the first billionaire of the United States. When a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?” He calmly replied, “Just a little bit more.”

            Isn’t this the way of wealth? If you’re thinking right now, I wouldn’t know, I’m not wealthy, then you’ve fallen into the same trap as Rockefeller. As citizens of the United States, we are the wealthiest population in the world. Yet many of us live in fear of poverty.  This is why it’s important to understand what true riches are.

            The first chapter of Ephesians contains one long sentence in the original, beginning at verse 3 and coming to a crescendo in verse 14. One commentator describes the sense of awe Paul communicates this way, “It is as though he was ecstatically opening a treasure chest, lifting its jewels with his hands, letting them cascade through his fingers, and marveling briefly at them as they caught his eye.” It is one of my favorite passages in the Bible for that very reason. When I am feeling weak or discouraged or insecure, I can turn to these words and remember just how wealthy I am.

            How do you measure wealth? As a follower of Christ, wealth is just one of many words that take on a new definition and importance. For example, leadership becomes service; love becomes sacrifice; freedom comes with great responsibility. And riches? Here are just a few of the phrases Paul wrote to remind us of just how much we have...we are “Blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing...chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him...adopted through Jesus Christ...we have redemption through His blood and forgiveness according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us...He has made known to us the mystery of His will, which is to ultimately unite in Christ all things in heaven and on earth.” But wait, there’s more! “In Him we have obtained an inheritance in order that we who hope in Christ can cause others to glorify Him.” And if that weren’t enough, when we believed in Christ, “we were sealed with the Holy Spirit, Who guarantees our inheritance until we actually receive it.” Wow. What more can you need?

            The last year has forced us all to face our fears, of sickness, death and isolation. Under all that is the fear that we won’t have enough. I think there’s evidence of this in our experience of empty shelves early on in the lockdowns! But we’ve also been given an opportunity to step back from life, and think, and consider, what really matters. That is true riches. The God who offers us these things will never run out of stock.

powerful weakness

Eze 2:1-7; Ps 123; 2 Cor 12:2-10; Mk 6:1-6

A prevalent theme of Scripture is Gods strength highlighted through man’s weakness. God always works most powerfully through the youngest child, the least important member of the tribe, a teenage virgin, a cripple, a leper, a tax collector. There’s a very important reason that He operates this way. In fact, He delights in our dependence on Him because He then works on our behalf. The weaker a person is, the more desperate he or she is for God to work through them. Strong people look to their own resources first for help, and only look to God when all else fails. Strong men in the Bible whose strength caused their destruction include King Saul, Samson, and David’s son Absalom.

            Like these men, we highlight our strengths and spend all our time and energy developing them. We mistakenly think that these are the things God values the most in us, so we only want to show Him, and the rest of the world, our good side. But what if He is patiently waiting for us to give up, to admit how weak we are, and ask for His grace? What if those things we are most ashamed about, most frustrated over, are the very things through which God wants to show Himself strong?

            In fact, think about the different ways God shows Himself strong. When we are at our weakest through sickness or tragedy, one way He shows His strength is through His people, who come alongside us and feed us and pray with us and cry with us. Another way is through a miracle of provision or circumstances. Sometimes He works so smoothly and effortlessly that we even fail to notice what He has done. Personally, as a person with all kinds of weaknesses and fears I have experienced His power through me time and time again.

            The point is, He will only enter in when He is invited. Paul clearly invited Him in by praying repeatedly that He remove the thorn. And God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Sufficient grace. Not overflowing, or abundant or excessive grace. Just enough, and just when we need it. I always longed for that word to be more than it is! But there is no need. Enough is enough. It always has been, and it always will be.

            The key is simple. Admit weakness and ask for help. He will not begrudge you. He will delight in you.

FAITH HEALING

Deut 15:7-11; Psa 112; 2 Cor 8:1-15; Mrk 5:22-43

The gospel accounts of Jesus’ healing the woman with bleeding and raising the dead girl, contain a small, hidden detail that gives us a glimpse of His true power. This is one of those ‘buried treasures’ in Scripture that had a profound effect on my personal grasp of His awesomeness.

            Way back in the beginning, when Moses was writing down the Levitical laws, God set out the principles of clean and unclean things, and the process the Jews needed to know in order to cleanse what had been defiled. The unclean things which they were not to touch included women with an issue of blood and dead bodies. If a Jew touched either of these, he would have to go through a cleansing process that included a set length of waiting time as well as a ritual bath.

            Then came Jesus with the promises of the New Covenant. In these two healings, He completely turned the law on its head. Instead of being defiled and needing to be cleansed, He touched their defilement and cleansed it, and them, instead. Do you see? Not only did He not need cleansing, He cleansed their defilement! It’s very interesting too to think about the fact that with the bleeding woman, she touched Him. And look at what He says to her when she tells Him what she’s done. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” The faith that reached out to Him healed her!

            Jairus had the same experience. He came to Jesus, begging for Him to save his daughter. He didn’t wait for Jesus to come to him! Even so, it seemed they were too late when they got back to his house. But in the greatest display of His power yet, He raised the little girl from the dead. And He took her hand, and brought her to life. If Jairus hadn’t by faith gone to Jesus, his daughter would’ve died. But Jairus’ faithful ask brought healing, cleansing and renewal to this child and her family.

            Our readings this week remind us that we are the children of a generous God. While the gospel account seems to be about something different, isn’t it generous of Him to give them what they asked for, only because of the faith they showed by asking? What can we learn about His generosity that we can imitate in our lives?

~Generosity takes many forms. Think about the ways God has been generous to you, and pass that generosity on to someone in your life.

only imagine

ONLY IMAGINE

Job 38:1-18; Psalm 107: 23-32; 2 Cor 5:14-21; Mark 4:35-41

The theologian AW Tozer wrote the following in his book Born after Midnight,

on the value of a sanctified imagination,

“I long to see the imagination released from its prison and given to its proper place among the sons of the new creation. What I am trying to describe here is the sacred gift of seeing, the ability to peer beyond the veil and gaze with astonished wonder upon the beauties and mysteries of things holy and eternal.”

            I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I read our passages this week, especially 2 Corinthians. Much of the instruction Paul writes in this letter as well as others depends on our ability to see what cannot be seen with our eyes. He calls us to be ambassadors,  “God making His appeal through us.” We represent the God of everything. When people look at us, speak to us, and listen to us, they are seeing an image of God. So, what does imagination have to do with it?

            It is our imagination that gives us a picture of Him when we ponder His existence. Our imagination reminds us that the Holy Spirit literally dwells in us and equips us to accomplish His will. Our imagination guides our worship as we think on the word pictures that come from Scripture and music. And our imagination shows us, if we listen, when and how to engage the world.

            And we are called to engage the world to reconcile with God. There’s much more to this than simply making a lot of noise about the things we disapprove of in this world. There is much more to building relations than telling a people how messed up they are. An ambassador cannot be effective for the one they represent if they alienate the place they inhabit. Instead, they seek to put the best of the one they represent forward. This job is incredibly important to build relations between governments and citizens of that land.

            We must learn to imagine how God sees the ones we encounter. We must learn to imagine more of these people than the particular sin or political party or social cause that they represent. We must learn to love them the way God loves, without condition or reservation. We must imagine His love for ourselves first. Then we can enthusiastically spread the news of this love, so that doors open and hearts change.

Only He can do the work. But we are His hands and feet and voice. Just imagine a world changed by Him, working through us!

LIVING WELL

Ezekiel 31:1-14; Psalm 92; 2 Cor 5:1-10; Mark 4:26-34

            I am struggling today to find joy. I wonder why I’m here and what good I can do. I feel sorry for myself and lament to God, asking Him whether my life still has a point. Poor me, I am so pathetic.

            Days like this are what this Psalm is written for. Psalm 92 is a psalm of encouragement, a step-by-step guide out of self-pity and into glorifying God. Walk with me through it...

            First, I am reminded to give thanks to the Lord and sing praises, to declare His rock-steady love in the morning and His certain care at night. It encourages me to see with fresh eyes the wonders of His creation and the eternal nature of His perspective. “1It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night’

                  Then, it contrasts us to Him and reminds us of just how small our lives are in comparison. Likewise, we remember that our enemies are as small and frail as we are, and they are destined for destruction. Re-framing them in this way makes the battles seem less frightening, and victory more possible.

“6 The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: 7 that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; 8 but you, O Lord, are on high forever.”

            Next it reminds us of how much God favors us. We are exalted in His eyes, and He anoints us. He reminds us of our history with Him, and the ways He has delivered us over and over. “9 For behold, your enemies, O Lord, for behold, your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered. 10 But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; you have poured over me fresh oil.11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies; my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.”

            Then most importantly for me today, I am reminded that no matter how I may feel, I am flourishing. I am still growing and changing, and still bearing fruit in my old age. All because He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. 12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.13 They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.”

            No matter what mood we come to the Psalms with, we can find His words of comfort, instruction, encouragement and rebuke. He has given us this precious voice with which to speak to Him, and to listen to Him. It’s a treasure that is yours. Taste and see that the Lord is good!

ETERNAL VISION

Gen 3:1-21; Ps 130; 2 Cor 4:13-18; Mark 3:20-35

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”(2 Cor 4:16-18).

            The apostle Paul is a model of resilience and perseverance for all of us. He faced intense persecution, betrayal from other Christ followers and opposition to the basic tenets of the faith. He went to prison repeatedly, was shipwrecked, and faced all the dangers of traveling in his times. He battled false teachers in the church, and re-directed young churches that were losing the way of Christ. In addition, he battled his own issues, (2 Cor 12), some kind of chronic problem that was so difficult for him he begged God to take it away.

            In all these things, he did not lose heart. And these verses above contain some critical elements of his strategy to press on.

            First, he recognized and relied on the power of the Holy Spirit at work in him and in every believer. He looked beneath the surface of the frail body we live in and saw that though the physical life passes away, the part of us that counts, the spiritual person, grows stronger every day, not in spite of suffering but because of it.

            Next, he took a long view of his suffering and trials so that he was able to call all of them ‘light, momentary affliction.’ For those who have suffered, you know that keeping such perspective is a challenge! But the next line tells us how he did it. He simply knew that what he was aiming for was worth far more than he was going through to get there. Any who have ever had a goal of any kind can relate to the value of looking forward to success. And the ‘eternal weight of glory’ is the ultimate success!

            Finally, as he viewed his troubles through this lens, he knew just how temporary all of it was. Troubles and triumphs, human relationships and homes and jobs and all the things that absorb so much of our time and energy, will all be stripped away at the last. Only eternal things will still matter. The challenge is to look past all the things that clamor for our attention and emotion and energy, and focus on the things that will last.

            Meeting that challenge is difficult. But with the Holy Spirit to guide us, we can do it. What would you do for the kingdom if there were no obstacles? Look in, ahead and up. God will make a way.

TRIUNITY

Ex 3:1-6; Psalm 93; Rom 8:12-17; John 3:1-16

     A teacher who was influential in my early Christian growth died in a terrible accident this weekend. I did not know her personally, only through study of her materials and listening to her teaching. She taught about idolatry of all kinds, though the focus was on weight loss. Her teaching helped me far beyond weight loss. In those studies, I grew past some serious stumbling blocks to my faith.

            Her studies were popular in the church for a time. Many congregations were using her materials, and others I knew were impacted by it as well. Until something shocking happened.

            In her attempt to explain the Trinity, she presented a case for what is known as ‘eternal subordination’, the idea that Christ is subordinate to God as a part of the relationship within the Trinity. Church leaders spoke out, and her materials were removed from many churches. Our church leaders asked me to stop teaching the class.

            I was so upset! I didn’t give much thought to the trinity in those days, and I could not understand why this seemingly obscure issue was causing such upheaval. To my shame, I admit that I said to my pastor, “the people are coming to lose weight! They don’t care what she teaches about the Trinity!”  I thought he would fall out of his chair! I stopped teaching the class.

            For me it was a lesson in the importance of what we know to be true, even when we struggle to understand it. I have spent much time studying the Trinity since then, and even in seminary classes I hesitated to try to articulate it. But what I have done is spend a lot of time in wonder of it.

            It’s a perfect unity that is so seamless we can’t even imagine it, yet we can know our life with God is secure in its embrace. It’s a model for us of love, harmony and selflessness that we long in our spirit to experience. I believe even in her mistakes, this teacher is now seeing it with her own eyes,  And one day we all will. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

saved life

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-35; 1 Cor 12:4-13; Jn 14:8-17

‘And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

            What does it mean, ‘shall be saved?’ In the Baptist tradition, this means I will go to heaven when I die. For many years, I wasn’t really excited about salvation because I wasn’t in a rush to go to heaven, and I didn’t know what else it meant to be saved.

            On the day of Pentecost, the followers of Christ got their first glimpse of what salvation meant. The Holy Spirit came in power, and things began to happen. Though Christ Himself was no longer on earth, His promises came alive. And what salvation means is written on the pages of the Word and on our lives.

            We are saved from death, first. But we are saved from so much more—fear of death, our own worst inclinations and predispositions and the bitter darkness of unforgiveness. We are saved from God’s wrath, and from permanent separation from Him. We no longer try to make life meaningful apart from God, and we no longer have to hope in things that cannot help us. We are free from the sorrow that breaks the hearts of those who have no Savior. We are free from the doubts and fears that darken our days and make our nights unbearable.

            On the other hand, we are saved to many things as well. We are saved to a new identity as a child of God and a new family that is the body of Christ. We are saved to a new purpose, one that has meaning and influence beyond our own ability to see and understand it. We are saved to a new community that celebrates the life of God in the world, and seeks to glorify Him in all we do. We also bear the privilege of ambassadors, seeking peace between the world and God, reaching out hands of reconciliation and mercy to others who have no hope. We are given gifts to work out our salvation in the community, building one another up as we grow together in Christ. And with all this, we are given the Holy Spirit as our Comforter, our Teacher, and our Counselor.

            Going to heaven when we die will be wonderful. But our salvation is so much more. Eternal life has already begun for each of us. We can live as if we will never die, because when we die, true life begins.

testify

Acts 1:15-26; Ps 47; 1 Jn 5:6-15; Jn 17:11b-19

I love to read books and hear testimonies of Christian missionaries. The ways that God meets needs and makes connections for those who have surrendered their entire life to Him, both inspire and amaze me.

            One of my favorites is George Muller, who started several orphanages and schools in Britain in the early 1900s. Muller made a vow to never ask anyone but God to meet his ministry needs, and the miracles of provision God poured out have been the subject of several books. He is famous not for what he did, but for what God did through him. Stories like his feed our faith and help it to grow strong enough to carry us in our own times of need. And this is what our faith is all about. Testimony.

            Our faith is built on testimony. The prophets testified of the promises God gave about His love and mercy, fulfilled in His Son. The apostles testified about what they had seen of Jesus’ works and teaching. Their testimonies weren’t dry collections of facts, but dramatic retellings of encounters that changed their lives so much that they committed everything to Him.And because of their lives and testimonies, we hold the Testimony of the Bible in our hands today. It is alive with their stories, and as we engage with it and the God it tells us of, it comes alive with our own stories. How many verses are highlighted or notated in your Bible because of an encounter you had with God there? Those are precious testimonies He has given you to remember.

            The testimony isn’t just His written word, either. His Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are His children. Jesus testifies in His prayer (John 17) that we are one with Him and one another. He testifies that He will keep us and sanctify us. And the prayer itself is a testimony for us; who can doubt that God will answer the prayers of Christ?

            The readings this week are full of testimonies and promises given for believers of every era. Where we fit in the big plan of God’s redemption story has yet to be seen, though Christ’s coming is closer than ever. But we have these testimonies to keep us strong, and united, and full of joy as we look toward our ultimate redemption. Read them, hear them, and believe.

~If you’ve never written out your testimony, take time to do it. Even our own stories encourage and strengthen us.

love does

Acts 11:19-30; Ps 33:1-8; 1 Jn 4:7-21; Jn 15:9-17

            The church in Acts gives us a glimpse into the workings of the Holy Spirit when all are submitted to its influence and promptings. And what do we see when we read about these people who were first called Christians? How is the love of God manifested to the world through them?

            The gospel was preached to Jews and to Hellenists. Barnabas, whose name means ‘son of encouragement,’ traveled a long distance to encourage the works of those in Antioch, even going the extra distance to Tarsus to bring Saul back with him. Here they taught the love of God through Christ for a whole year.

            Next came the prophets, warning of a coming famine. On hearing this news, the believers gathered what they could together and sent it with Barnabas and Saul to relieve those living in Judea.

            This brings to mind Christ’s words in John 15, “You did not choose Me but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide...” The fruit that they bore in those very early days continues to abide with us and in us today. The gifts of the Spirit that the early believers expressed—encouragement, teaching, prophecy, evangelism, and giving—were gifts of love with which God prepared each of these people to love others through actions and works that can only be explained by the power and goodness of God. And the love of God was spread beyond Jerusalem, and Judea. The Great Commission was happening, all because they loved God and loved their neighbors.

            How do we love like this? When Moses gave the Law, it was to teach us what loving God and others looks like. It was given as a snapshot of what God wanted, with its practices designed to teach us how to love God. But we continually battle with the idea that its practices prove our love, when our practices should come out of our love, not because its what we must do, but because it’s what we want to do.

            My daily devotional practice can look the same whether I do it to look pious or I do it because I love God and want to spend time with Him. In this kind of day-to-day living, only He can truly tell the difference between legalism and love. Church attendance looks the same whether we come to worship or we want to check the box of church attendance in our quest for righteousness. The question of motivation matters greatly to God, though.

            What if we look at our Christian service as an act of love rather than an act of obligation? How would it change us? More important, how would it change the world?

Love, and let your love lead your actions. In this way the law will be fulfilled.

ONE LOVE

Acts 8:26-40; Ps 66:1-8; 1 Jn 3:11-24; Jn 14:15-21

The early Christians had quite a reputation. In the 1st century, they were commonly known to do things like rescue abandoned children  to raise them as family, and risk their own lives to care for people that had fallen prey to diseases and plagues. They gave up their own possessions to those who had need, knowing that this world was not their true home, but a place in which to shine the grace of God for the time they were in it. They existed for the benefit of those around them. In a word, they were known for their love. Not just words of love, as 1 John says, but deeds and truth. They kept the commandments of Christ, and He was manifested through them.

            The church began to change, though. Through the centuries, through persecutions and disagreements on points of understanding, different sects of the church began to distinguish themselves from other Christians by what they believed about Christ and about the gospel. Those days were the beginning of what is now 40,000+ different denominations of Christianity that believe essentially the same things, but differ on some of the finer points of how to express and to teach about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Today, what a church believes and expresses on their website is the most important thing about them. Correct doctrine has overcome love, and we are all poorer for it.

            Even as I write this, I know many will disagree with me. And I want to be clear;  it matters what we believe! But the minors have become majors and the church is weak and sick with the fallout. We have limited time and energy, both in a day-to-day sense and in a cosmic sense. Couldn’t we spend our time much more productively if we went back to being known for our love instead of our correct doctrine? The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians “knowledge puffs up; love builds up.” How can we build up the church for the good of the world today?

~Get to know someone who has been taught different things than you about the life of a Christian. And marvel at the goodness of God to bring us together in Christ. 

wise sheep

Acts 4:23-37; Ps 23; 1 John 3:1-10; John 10:11-16

            We all have heard the jokes among Christians about the stupidity of sheep, and we make fun of ourselves for being just like them. But a little note on Psalm 23 in my Life Application Study Bible made me think about the whole comparison differently. It reminded me that sheep are not just passive, stupid animals, but obedient followers. Though they do go astray, they learn to follow the shepherd because he keeps them inside the safe boundaries that lead to a life of flourishing.

            A good shepherd cares so much for his sheep, in fact, that he will do whatever is necessary to protect them, even from their own carelessness. One method a shepherd will use sounds particularly harsh, but it is very effective.

            If he has a lamb that is prone to wander, a shepherd will break the leg of that lamb, causing it to be unable to walk. Then, he will carry the lamb around his own shoulders as it heals. The close proximity and utter dependence forms a bond between the shepherd and the lamb that will remain long after the leg has healed. Though the pain caused by the broken leg is severe, the resulting dependence forms the lamb’s future mindset as it learns the importance of staying close to it’s source of safety and care. The shepherd is not just an option; he is life.

            When we think about this in terms of our life of discipleship, we can understand better some of the hardships we face and the question of “why” has at least a framework of an answer. Our Shepherd cares for us with love and mercy. He is invested in us! He has laid down His life for the sheep.

            Though hardships come in many forms and degrees, He will always invite us to draw closer to Him, to bring our weakness and wounds to Him, to learn another level of what it means to depend on Him, and to find once again that He is good. Though the analogy of the shepherd breaking the leg is imperfect— I do not believe He directly causes our wounds— He does actively participate in holding us and healing us so that when we are whole again, we come out of it closer than ever to our Source, our Protector, our Healer. And we learn again why staying close to Him is not a limitation; it’s where we find true freedom.

benefits

Acts 4:5-14; Ps 98; 1 Jn 1:1-2:2; Luk 24:36-49

     Why would you want to be a Christian? An unbeliever may ask you that one day—what would be your answer? On the surface, it seems to make life harder. You give the church part of your money. You spend your free time serving others instead of relaxing and enjoying yourself. The decisions you make about your life don’t belong only to you; they are guided and dictated by an ancient book and an invisible God. And the highest calling for a Christian is to follow One who hung on a Cross, rejected and betrayed. It sounds like a pretty dismal life.

            If you ignore all the benefits, that is. After the Cross comes resurrection. Giving of time and money means we get to see God multiply our efforts beyond our wildest imagination. Our decisions are based on wisdom instead of selfish desires. The Holy Spirit opens our minds so we can understand the Scriptures. We are healed; we are saved. Our relationships become stronger than our human efforts can make them. We find joy in the God of our salvation, Whose right hand makes all things possible. We gain the perspective of those that serve another King, for whom the darkness and death of this world will not have the final say.

            He heals all our diseases, and redeems our life from the pit. He crowns us with love and compassion, and satisfies our desires with good things (Ps 103). We have no need to ever despair, because He is always ready to help us, to save us, to deliver us from our own dismal failures and the pains we receive in this world.

            These are just a few of the benefits. When I was young and first said ‘yes’ to Jesus, I did it mostly because I was afraid of going to hell. When I was asked to share Jesus with others, I had no idea what to say. I had to experience Him, to be with Him, to have His Spirit open my mind to understand the Scriptures and to know the healing power He brought to my life, and the lives of those around me. Every experience of Him added to what I could tell others. But I had to start somewhere, with that first ‘yes,’ and all the smaller ‘yeses’ that came after. The more I said yes, the more benefits I experienced. That’s how I know that I have been with Jesus. My prayer is that others would know I have been as well.

~Make a list of all the benefits afforded us in salvation. Look at it often, and thank God in Christ for them.