A grateful heart does wonders to improve our sight, making it much easier to see God's hand in our lives.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Although I have been a Christian for many, many years, it was only relatively recently that I encountered a character that I had never met and from whom I had a lot to learn. His story is closely tied to the books of Philemon and Colossians, and perhaps Ephesians as well. The books of Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians were written some 2,000 years ago. No one can be sure of all the details as to its writing, but scholars have pieced together an account that is a very powerful picture of redemption. Even if all the details aren’t correct, the redemption remains. I would like to share his story with you.
Once upon a time, during the Roman Empire, there lived a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus lived in Colossae with his master, Philemon. In those days, the life of a slave was not a particularly attractive one. A slave had no identity, no rights, and was considered to be merely a possession. Any attempt to escape this lot in life was rewarded with certain death. It does not appear that Onesimus was a very good slave. He was certainly not honest, and probably not very wise. Onesimus stole from his master, then ran away, a continent away, to Rome, hoping to lose himself in that crowded and busy metropolis.
In Rome, Onesimus encountered the Apostle Paul. And what do you know? Paul knew Onesimus’s master, Philemon! I suspect that Onesiums was not particularly happy with this “small world” experience. By all expectation, Paul should have sent Onesimus back to Philemon immediately to be punished, i.e. executed. But Paul had a master to serve as well. As an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul shared the Gospel with Onesimus, who received it. In turn, Onesimus became a real blessing to Paul, to the extent that Paul thought of Onesimus as a spiritual son, and wanted to keep Onesimus with him for service.
Since Onesimus was Philemon’s slave, Paul needed to ask Philemon’s permission to keep Onesimus. This is the subject of Paul’s letter to Philemon. And since mail delivery was not what it is today, Paul needed to send his letter with a messenger (named Tychicus). Meanwhile, Paul had received word about life in Colossae from Epaphras, who was with him in Rome at the time. Given Paul’s affection for the Colossian church and his concern in regard to the philosophies that were threatening the Gospel there, Paul took this opportunity to write to the Colossian church as well. At the very end of the letter to the Colossians, Paul refers to another letter that was circulating in Asia at the same time. Many scholars believe that that letter was what we know today as Ephesians. It is likely, then, that Paul took advantage of the opportunity to communicate with the believers in Asia and also sent with Tychicus a general letter to the Asian churches, which eventually became associated with Ephesus.
So—God used one insignificant slave, a dishonest, insignificant slave at that, to work an incredible web of redemption. He used Onesimus’s encounter with Paul to redeem Onesimus. Onesimus in turn blessed Paul and became a participant in Paul’s apostolic work to extend God’s redemptive work to the Gentile world. These events triggered Paul to write not one but possibly three letters, all of which proclaimed God’s truth and which would be used by God to continue His work, not just for that generation, but for every generation of believers since. God used the events surrounding one slave to “buy back” countless souls.
We have not only been blessed by these events—we now have the books of Philemon, Colossians, and Ephsesians—but we are invited by Christ to participate in His ongoing work of redemption, of “buying back” those enslaved by sin. It is good to be reminded of this, especially when we feel as insignificant (and possibly as guilty) as Onesimus, or when we encounter people who might appear to be as insignificant as Onesimus.
The point here is that God is serious about His work of redemption, and He will take any and every opportunity to prosper His kingdom. We do not need to be anyone special or do anything spectacular to be a part of what He is doing. We simply need to come to Christ and depend upon Him to enable us to fulfill His purposes for us.
Monday, November 7, 2011
I have been thinking about the importance of body life in the pursuit of personal holiness. As counter-intuitive and uncomfortable as it may be, our personal growth in Christ depends on our spending time with and exposing our lives to other believers. It is in the context of relationship that our sins can be exposed and we can share unconditional love. Unconditional love is relatively easy to give and receive when we don’t know one another. It becomes significantly more difficult—and more powerful—when it is offered and received in the knowledge of our unworthiness. It seems to me that one of the biggest obstacles to experiencing the power of this unconditional love is the fear of failure.
We live in a time of unprecedented inspection, measurement, and evaluation. Unborn babies are monitored and measured by ultrasound and sometimes amniocentesis. Newborn babies are given an APGAR score at the moment of birth. Pediatricians track growth and development. Standardized tests in school measure cognitive growth. College admissions exams determine whether we qualify for the college of our choice. Once our education is complete, there are still more evaluations and exams in order to become certified or licensed in our particular field of expertise.
While continual evaluation has real benefits, it also establishes a climate of success and failure by which we measure ourselves and one another. Success is good; failure is bad. This is easily translated to “I am good when I succeed; I am bad when I fail.” Success and failure become the standards by which we determine our worth and the worth of others. As long as we live by these standards, it is very difficult for us to expose our weaknesses and admit to someone that we have failed. The drive to avoid failure leads us down a path on which we either hide or play the “Compare and Compete” game. The game is pretty simple: We define success in terms of comparing ourselves with others (on our own terms, of course), and as long as we compare favorably to at least a few people, we win. The competition associated with playing the Compare and Compete game, however, makes it very uncomfortable for us to reveal weakness or to fail in any way. We therefore become quite adept at protecting ourselves by minimizing the spiritual and relational risks we take.
It doesn’t take too much study of the Gospels to see that Jesus didn’t play the Compare and Compete game. His worth was based on His identity as the Father’s Son and on their relationship. It is also clear that Jesus was operating from a perspective that makes the concepts of success and failure irrelevant. It is easy for us to think that as God, Jesus didn’t need to worry about failing—He couldn’t! I believe, though, that Jesus didn’t worry about failing for a more profound reason: success and failure are insignificant if not downright irrelevant concepts for God. Certainly there were and are many people who look at Jesus as a failure, but their opinion is tied to their human perspective rather than God’s.
We can see God’s view of failure quite clearly in Jesus’s interaction with the Apostle Peter in Matthew 16. In verses 13-19, Jesus is asking the disciples about His identity. In the course of the discussion, Peter declares Jesus as the Christ, God’s Son. Jesus affirms Peter and declares that He will build His church upon Peter, the rock. Jesus embellishes this promise by promising Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, with commensurate authority. In the very next section, verses 21-23, Jesus again initiates conversation, this time about His upcoming death. Peter rebukes Him, and Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter and calls him Satan. If ever there was an example of failure, this is it! Remarkably, though, there is no indication that Jesus valued Peter any less as a result of his “failure.” He didn’t express regret at planning to build His church upon Peter, and he didn’t retract His promise to give Peter the keys of the kingdom.
The second incident—Peter’s “failure”—is every bit as important as Peter’s declaration of faith. Peter needs to have his human perspective corrected, but his value, his worth to God, is not about his performance; it is about his faith. As he allows Jesus to mold and teach him, he becomes equipped to fulfill God’s glorious purposes for him. Peter does not need to earn his place nor prove his worth; neither does he need fear failure.
I would suggest that we could benefit from a paradigm shift. Rather than thinking in terms of success and failure, we could focus on inviting God to do His work in us, through us, and among us. Our value would not be tied to our performance, and we would be free to take risks. Failure would no longer be a threat, and we would be able to deeply engage in one another’s lives without the stress and pressure of the Compare and Compete game.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
The beautiful weather that we enjoy in Fall is a irresistible invitation to be out in our Lord’s glorious creation. One of my favorite cool-weather activities is biking. The colorful trees, the dashing squirrels, the crisp air, and the crunch of leaves under my tires all make the experience exhilarating. That said, biking does require effort on my part, and I admit that I often pedal harder than necessary at times so that I can “coast” a bit later.
If the truth be known, I would like to coast in my spiritual life as well. But try as I might, I cannot find any Biblical justification for it. On the contrary, Scripture continually reminds me that the spiritual life is not one of sitting still. The author of Hebrews spends a significant portion of his epistle exhorting his readers to grow, to “press on to maturity.” My observations lead me to believe, though, that we don’t really know how to do that well. Yes, we enjoy worship and listen attentively to sermons. We can read our Bible regularly and keep a commitment to daily prayer. All of these activities are good and necessary, but I believe that Scripture teaches that they are not sufficient.
Please consider Ephesians Chapter Four. The Apostle Paul is imploring his readers to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which they have been called. He becomes more specific in his exhortation, and it becomes very clear that pursuing personal holiness is a corporate activity. Stretching toward spiritual maturity is an exercise of the body, each using his/her God-given gifts to build one another up so that no one will be swayed by false teaching.
Paul’s message to the Ephesians—and to us—can be rather disconcerting. Our American culture prides itself on rugged individualism. We have inherited from Eve the desire to “do it ourselves.” Pursuing spiritual growth in the context of the body can be pretty threatening. After all, we may make mistakes. Worse, our sin and selfishness may leak out. I am afraid that this is at the heart of Paul’s point. It is only as we get close to one another that our more subtle sins will be exposed. Only then will we be brought to the point of confession and repentance. Only then will we have the opportunity to experience the incredible power of forgiveness and of being known and loved. And only then will we be able to demonstrate the love that our neighbors in the world are longing to find.
Monday, September 12, 2011
"To be or not to be: that is the question." In the famous opening line of Hamlet’s soliloquy, Hamlet ponders his future in light of shattered relationships. Here and now, in the world of real relationship, I would like to pose a similar question: Will we be who God has created us to be, or will we not? Will we accept and rejoice in our identity in Christ, or will we persist in determining our own identity?
All women are invited to participate in Perisseia, Windsor Chapel's women’s growth group, as we look at relationship from the perspective of our own identity. The concept of relationship usually brings to mind the importance of putting the interests of others first, and we women are usually pretty good at that. However, we often overlook the fact that it is impossible to deeply love others and truly give of ourselves if we are not continually finding our identity, value, and security in Christ. Please join us as we discover, celebrate, and practice who we are in and before our Lord.
This nine-week series will begin Thursday, September 15th. Meetings will be held 7:00-8:30 in the Chapel House. No preparation or commitment is required. Come when you can and as you are able. For more information, please contact Cindy Bills (firstname.lastname@example.org; 609-799-2559).
Thursday, September 1, 2011
It seems to me that Christians often labor under the belief that they should be “nice” and “happy,” or at the very least behave nicely and appear happy. In this way, we will be good witnesses to non-believers and an encouragement to believers as we faithfully project the good news of the Gospel.
I would respectfully ask that we take a more critical look at this popular point of view. Speaking for myself, I do desire to be a strong witness to unbelievers and an encouragement to my brothers and sisters in Christ. However, I also want to feel good about myself, and I want others to think well of me. It is this “me” part of the equation that leads me into the temptation of creating a “nice and happy” facade even when I am neither. It provides the motivation to use the witness and encouragement excuse to justify an outward “nice and happy” mask, to settle for safety and the pretense of joy rather than the real thing.
While “nice and happy” can be a pleasant and comfortable routine, it falls sadly short of the authentic and passionate life to which Scripture calls us. Jeremiah, chosen by God to be His prophet, complained bitterly to God of his lot in life. Before he became King of Israel, David’s psalms record his despair and impatience for God to act on his behalf. Jesus has warned us that we will face tribulation, and the Apostle Paul did not hide or minimize his suffering for the cause of Christ. John has identified anyone who denies his sin as a liar, and none of the “heroes” of the Bible is without significant personal struggles. The glory of the Christian life is not that we have an excuse to play the nice and happy game, but rather that we are loved in spite of (and in the midst of) our sins and struggles. Indeed, broken and weak as we are, the Lord of the universe invites us to partake in His nature and participate in His purposes.
I would very much like to see those of us who call Jesus Christ Lord to consider relinquishing the security blanket of pretending to be “nice and happy” and experience the freedom of being genuine with one another. Without doubt, this mode of operation carries with it risk. But as we expose ourselves and offer ourselves to others, we will be driven to find our identity, value, and security in Christ, and we will be able to love one another with the love that can reveal Him to our neighbors. And as a bonus, we will no longer be bound by the “nice and happy” model of Christian living.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Monday, April 4, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
A prominent rental car company advertises its available “Never Lost” system. For someone like me, who can get lost in a box and can’t read a map, this sounds pretty good. Still, I’m skeptical. Never lost?
What about spiritual direction? Is there a GPS device for spiritual growth, for healing and change? It is often uncomfortable for me as a Christian counselor to be unable to access a “road map” for spiritual growth. Although there are reliable Biblical principles and effective counseling strategies, there is no formula to get from Point A to Point B. I cannot reassure a client that they are halfway “there.”
I have often admired Abraham—“Abram” at the time—for obeying God’s instructions to "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you.” God didn’t even tell Abram where he would be going! And so we see Abraham, the father of faith, believe God and leave his family, with no forwarding address.
Christians are Abraham’s spiritual descendants. Unfortunately, we are also Adam and Eve’s. Every day we must make choices to believe God and follow Him or to choose our own way. Our own way often seems so much more reasonable, so much more secure. Our self-confidence can blind us to the fact that we are going the wrong way! If, however, we exercise faith as our father Abraham did, we will--really and truly-- never be lost. Faith brings us to Christ, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Since we've just finished the Christmas season, we are all mindful of Immanuel, God with us. The concept of Immanuel is central to our understanding of the incarnation of Christ, but it also directs us to the very nature of God. The Bible reveals to us that God has been with us since He created us.
All women are invited to join a Bible study that looks at the concept of Immanuel as expressed in the book of Genesis. The study will be part of the 11th Hour Adult Education program at Windsor Chapel, but women of other church bodies are welcome. The study will be interactive and participatory, involving small group investigation of pertinent passages as well as large group discussion.
The study will be from 11:00 to noon on Sundays, beginning February 20. Please contact Cindy Bills for more information (email@example.com; 609-799-2559).
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
I Thess 5:16-18-- Rejoice always ; pray without ceasing ; in everything give thanks ; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
"Some people complain that God put thorns on roses, while others praise Him for putting roses on thorns."
"Were there no God, we would be in this glorious world with grateful hearts, and no one to thank.
"O Lord, that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness."
"A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues."
"Pride slays thanksgiving, but an humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves."
Henry Ward Beecher
"The worship most acceptable to God comes from a thankful and cheerful heart."
"Thou has given me so much....Give me one thing more, a grateful heart."
"Be thankful for the smallest blessing, and you will receive greater. Value the least gifts no less than the greatest, and simple graces as especial favors. If you remember the dignity of the Giver, no gift will seem small or mean, for nothing can be valueless that is given by the most high God.
Thomas a Kempis
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Monday, January 17, 2011
"Have to" or "Get to?"
Human strategy or divine gift?
Denial of pain or resolution of pain?
"Instant fix" or extended path?
Suspension of justice or independent of justice?
Free or costly?
Forgiveness is a complex and intensely emotional concept. It is also at the very heart of who God is and who we are before Him. Perisseia, the women's growth group of Windsor Chapel, will spend its winter term focusing on the rich topic.
All women are welcome to attend. No preparation or commitment is required. Come when you can and as you are able.
Meetings are held Thursday evenings, 7:00-8:30, at the Chapel House, Jan. 20-April 7.
For more information, contact Cindy Bills: firstname.lastname@example.org; 609-275-8557.