Saturday, December 4, 2021

Here Comes the...Bridegroom!

 Christmas is coming!  ‘Tis the season for us to ponder with wonder the coming of Christ as God Incarnate in history and to consider with hope the promise of Christ’s return.  I would like to suggest that taking a bit of time to consider the return of Christ will enable us to make our celebration of the Incarnation more powerful and more deeply joyful.


The church is sometimes described as the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7), and believers are now waiting for the Bridegroom.  This metaphor is worth careful consideration.  In today’s world, weddings are a big deal, requiring months if not years of preparation and care.  But that was similarly true in Bible times and in the centuries in between.  The truth is that marriage is a big deal.  God’s intent for marriage is lifetime intimacy that mirrors the unity and intimacy enjoyed within the Trinity.  And while our elaborate preparations reflect that, it is important to remember that it is the marriage relationship—not the ceremony—that is of ultimate importance.  In the counseling field, it is regularly bemoaned that young couples spend much more time preparing for their wedding than they do preparing for a lifetime of living together.



Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  2“Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent.  3“For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.  5“Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6“But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’  7“Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.  8“The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’  9“But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’  10“And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.  11“Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’  12“But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’  13“Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.



This parable of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 25, reminds us that waiting for the bridegroom requires an active and engaged waiting.  And in the end, it is about a genuine relationship with Christ, one characterized by our knowing Him and His knowing us.  I would suggest that keeping our lamps lit is a metaphor for a continued pursuit of Christ, fueled by a desire to build that relationship.  Preparing for Christ is far more than looking good.  It is far more about building and deepening our relationship with Christ.  And while developing that relationship is serious business and more challenging than “dressing up” in Christian trappings, it also means that the messiness of our lives of faith is not the measure of who we are in Christ and need not distract us from pursuing Him.  


The celebration of Christmas is marked by special events, special decorations, gifts.  These symbols are reminders of deeper truths.  As we plan our events, dig out our decorations, and purchase our gifts, may we do so with our eyes, ears, and hearts fixed on our Lord so that this holiday may enable and empower us to keep our lamps lit.


Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Exercise of Faith

 "Faith is not a leap into the dark, but into the light."

                                                    John Polkinghorne

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Sacrifice of Praise

 Thanksgiving.  Giving thanks.  So much has been preached, written, and taught about the importance of giving thanks and why embracing the Thanksgiving holiday is so good for us.  Offering praise and thanks to the Lord reinforces to us that God is God and we are not.  Research shows that cultivating a grateful heart is an important component in our experience of happiness. And when we express our thanks, we become an encouragement to others.  Giving thanks changes us, making us more fit for heaven.


But herein lies the catch.  Giving thanks can be difficult.  Really difficult.  A few weeks ago, our pastor at Windsor Chapel, preaching from I Thessalonians, commented that waiting on the Lord, waiting for Him to answer our prayers, is often challenging and frustrating.  We see in this epistle an ongoing tension: Paul longingly prays for the opportunity to return to Thessalonica, to be reassured and encouraged by their faith and fellowship while at the same time offering deep heartfelt praise and thanksgiving and exhorting the Thessalonians to do the same even as both sides wait to be reunited.


Paul makes note of struggle and suffering in his letter to the Thessalonians, both on his part and theirs.  These are hard times for these young believers living in a very secular world hostile to their faith.  And yet, giving thanks and praise is an unmistakable thread that runs through Paul’s heart and spirit, and his words.


We are often told to count our blessings.  While this can be good advice, it can also minimize the challenges of genuine thanksgiving and cultivating a heart of gratitude.  And, the exhortation to count our blessings can mislead us into thinking that the giving of thanks requires us to pretend that times aren’t tough when they are.  Rather, the giving of thanks requires us to think beyond our tough times and beyond ourselves and to refocus on our good God.  The determination to present a grateful heart before the Lord means that we claim by faith that the Lord will work good out of each and every one of our circumstances, to cling to the Truth that we are not yet able to see.


And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  Romans 5:3-5



Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.




Sunday, October 31, 2021

A Thought For Halloween

 "There's a day that's drawing near when this darkness breaks to light

And the shadows disappear and my faith shall be my eyes

Jesus has overcome and the grave is over-whelmed

The victory is won; He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name; no more sorrow no more pain

I will rise on eagle's wings before my God, fall on my knees...."

                        Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Louie Giglio, Matt Maher


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Thought For The Day

 “Being honest may not get you a lot of friends, but it’ll always get you the right ones.”


                                                                                                            John Lennon

Monday, October 11, 2021

A Lesson From Middle Earth

 October is arguably my favorite month, and I know I am not alone.  The cooler, crisp weather that heralds the changing season is invigorating as it invites us to embrace the rhythm of God’s creation.  And while I am learning the value of living in the present, October includes for me thoughts of past and future: memories of the summer just past and anticipation of the upcoming holiday season in the near future.  And as I integrate these components into my October present, I find a constructive perspective to guide my days.


Jogging (with the company of our Doodle) is an integral part of my commitment to fitness, but the heat of summer usually suspends our twice-weekly outings.  And so this past summer, I found myself retreating to Middle Earth (via film) as I worked through interval training workouts on our elliptical trainer.  As The Lord of the Rings trilogy begins, there is an introduction that sets the stage for the epic good vs. evil struggle that follows.


Middle Earth is populated by a diverse group of intelligent beings: Wizards, dwarves, elves, hobbits, and men.  When the evil Lord Sauron determines to put the whole of Middle Earth under his cruel rule, he crafts the “one ring to rule them all” as his ultimate weapon.  Men and elves come together to challenge him, and the future of the land rests upon the outcome of the subsequent battle.  After young Prince Isildur witnesses the death of his father, the King of Gondor, he grabs his father’s broken sword and severs Sauron’s ring-bearing hand from his body.  Sauron’s kingdom implodes and disintegrates—for the time being.  But the young prince disregards the advice of the elf lord at his side, and instead of destroying the evil ring, Isildur keeps it for his own purposes.  Sauron’s ring has a will of its own, and it quickly slips away from the prince.  Its location unknown for centuries, the continued existence of the ring enables Sauron to slowly regain his power even as the general population loses the collective memory of the long-past events that threatened their lives and well-being.  It is only as the growing evil represented by the resurgence of Sauron’s sphere of evil influence becomes recognized does the folly of Prince Isildur become clear.


And this is the point in the saga that directs my thoughts forward from this past summer, through October, and toward the Christmas holiday that will soon be upon us.  John the Baptist went about his days proclaiming the imminent appearance of Christ and the importance of repentance.  During his public ministry, Jesus repeated John’s message, and the Apostles who continued Jesus’s ministry after His death and resurrection continued to call for confession and repentance.  If we are to be ready for the coming of Christ—in our celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas and/or His second coming—we must be about the business of confessing and repenting.  If any of us believe that we have not sinned, we are deceiving ourselves (I John 1:8).


This, then, brings us back to The Lord of the Rings.  The dramatic plot rests upon the deadly consequences of Isildur’s choice, centuries in the making.  Isildur did not experience any consequences of his choice apart from losing the ring; he could not have imagined the cost of claiming the evil ring of power.  But consequences are not limited by our lack of vision or imagination.  And it is not simply our human limitations of vision and imagination that can set us up to make poor choices.  In the course of this powerful story, two elf lords make two observations about the race of men: Men are weak, and they desire power above all else.  We see in Isildur the weakness that made him unable to resist the power pull of the ring that could and would only serve the evil purposes of Sauron.  


The Lord of the Rings is a fictional narrative, but its author, J.R.R. Tolkien, understood very well the ability of fiction to represent truth in an extraordinarily effective way (On Fairy-stories).  The story of Isildur challenges us to consider our weakness and our desire for power.  It also challenges us to consider that there are consequences to our choices that we may never see or imagine.  Our choices matter.


And so we now have our own choice to make.  Are we going to take responsibility for our weakness and desire for personal power?  Can we accept our limitations as human beings?  Are we going to follow Isildur’s trail, or are we going to learn from it?  If we want to learn from Isildur’s choice, we must prepare our hearts for the kingdom of God, proclaimed in the coming of Christ.  We must maintain a humble attitude characterized by confession and repentance and a dependence upon Christ not only for our salvation but also for our identity, value, significance, power, and influence.  


Tolkien’s Middle Earth saga reminds us that our choices matter and that we are not to be trusted to make those choices independently.  Praise God that the kingdom of God is upon us!  Our loving Lord has provided a way for us to safely travel through this world and into His kingdom.  May we prepare with gratitude and joy.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Thought For The Day

 "Happiness is not a goal, it's a by-product."

                                        Eleanor Roosevelt

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Back To School

 September.  Regardless of our age or family/life circumstances, it is difficult to walk into September without some Back To School thoughts.  And so here we are.


Some of us are, in fact, returning to school, either as students or teachers/staff.  Others of us are sending children back to school.  Some of us are relieved to have put our school years behind while others look back with longing for those good old days.  Regardless of our current situation, September stands as a reminder of our continual need to grow and as an invitation to do so.  This is a wonderful time to consider going back to school, so to speak, under our spiritual Schoolmaster, Jesus Christ.  The Bible reminds us that a life of faith is a life of learning and growing.  We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling as the indwelling Holy Spirit does His work in sanctifying us (Philippians 2:12-13).  


Our faith-work takes multiple forms, but one of the most significant and powerful elements of Christian growth remarkably echoes our school years: Bible study.  Reading, studying, and meditating on this Book is our foundation for a growing life of faith.  God has provided His Word for us, that we might learn who He is, who we are before Him, and what a faith relationship with Him looks like.


Bible study is more than the book learning that my Back To School analogy would suggest.  The ultimate goal of Bible study is to be transformed by the renewing of our mind and to be conformed to the character of Christ and His kingdom.  As we immerse ourselves in God’s Word, our minds and hearts are touched.  We become better able to love as Christ loves and better able to explain Truth to others.  We become informed and wise, yes, but we are changed from the inside out for all eternity.  This is a far greater reward than the grades we earn/earned from our school studies.  May we eagerly and gratefully return to the Lord’s schoolhouse of His Word, sit at our Teacher’s feet, diligently study His Word, and humbly submit to His work in us.


Sunday, August 22, 2021

"And They'll Know We Are Christians By Our...."

 Summer continues, the pandemic is at bay, and fall is just around the corner…. Many if not most of us have become ambitious with thoughts and plans of places to go and people to see.  And for believers, there is a sense of renewed opportunity for ministry and engagement with an increasingly divided, dark and unbelieving world.  It can be easy to feel confused and overwhelmed.  What can we as individuals and as a small church do to proclaim the kingdom?


Fortunately, redemption is the Lord’s work.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict unbelievers and draw them to the Father through the Son.  We get to come along for the ride.  Our role is simple yet confoundingly complex and challenging: we are to love, in unity.  As believers love one another and worship and serve as one, we become witnesses of Love Himself and reflect the intimate unity within the Trinity.  


When we embrace our role as witnesses to the ends of the earth, we become God’s hands, feet, and skin.  As difficult as it may be to believe at time, our Lord delights to include us in His redemptive work.  But make no mistake: even as the Lord uses us to extend His kingdom, He uses the process itself to do His redemptive work in us, both individually and corporately.  Sin, selfishness, and stubbornness are exposed, and we must confront those stumbling blocks to love and unity if we genuinely want to fulfill the Lord’s purposes for us.   


Scripture is extremely clear on this point.  In His last words to the disciples in the upper room before His death, Jesus talks repeatedly about the love and unity among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the expansion of that love and unity to and among the disciples, that they would know the joy and peace of God and proclaim Him to the world.  We, as spiritual descendants of those disciples in the upper room with Jesus, are also called to love and unity, to put our flesh into action in ways that express the love of Christ and the unity of the Godhead in the here and now.  


But the church is not and has never been immune to division and a lack of love, and that is more evident now than ever before.  How can we bear witness to the love and unity of our Triune God when we exhibit neither love nor unity?  But does bearing witness mean that we sacrifice our convictions held in faith to an amorphous “higher good” of mushy, tolerant love?  Again, I would like to consider our spiritual ancestors, the original disciples.  The geopolitical environment was as hostile to Christianity then as it is now; and there was plenty of opportunity for strife in those times: we read in Scripture times of sharp discord in the early church.  But early believers still managed to build the church by growing in love and unity and manifesting those distinctive characteristics to the unbelieving world; the church grew exponentially.  


What might this look like for believers in local bodies?  There is no prescription, no script.  But I believe that there are a couple of Biblical truths that can help us to negotiate this difficult path.  The first is that we are all sinners: we all fall short of the glory of God.  This means that we have reason to cultivate humility in our own hearts and minds and to regard others as valuable—with valuable perceptions and convictions—even as they sin.  A second truth to consider is that the human heart is deceitful, and only God knows its depths.  Our motives may not be as pure as we would like to think, and we might easily misinterpret or misjudge the motives of others.  We need not make it our mission to convince others that we are right.  It is much wiser and more profitable to make it our mission to find commonalities in our respective positions within the context of a shared faith.  


Again, I do not believe that the Lord would have us trade in our convictions for a diluted faith that is untethered from truth.  But please consider that it is indeed possible to hold our convictions and to also pursue love and unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We can seek to be fertile ground for the Holy Spirit to bear His fruit in us, that we would treat others with patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control even as we hold our convictions.  And again, we can remember that God is God and we are not.  He is the One doing the redemptive work; we get to participate, but we have not been invited to supervise or superintend.  The more relevant issue here is that we may very well need to trade in our prideful desire to be right in order to build a body characterized by love and unity.  


We are living in a time of unprecedented opportunity to leverage the power of love and unity in a divided and hate-filled world.  May the Lord work within us so that He can work through us…!





Friday, July 2, 2021

"Let There Be... Cicadas!"

 In the spring of 1775, Paul Revere made his famous ride through portions of New England, warning the rebellious colonists that the British were coming (though he did not ride through the streets shouting the famous phrase).  In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King, relief for the embattled forces for good was proclaimed by the phrase, “The eagles are coming!”  And as the weather warmed up this spring, we heard the drumbeat of a different sort of announcement: “The cicadas are coming!”  And while the arrival of the cicadas does not represent the threat of 18th Century British troops coming to keep colonial America in line or the help that the eagles gave to Aragorn’s forces as they were surrounded by evil orcs and goblins, it has become nonetheless a topic of conversation among us.  Some are curious and interested in the unusual sight; some are annoyed by the noise; others are staying in their homes because they hate crunching on cicadas that are littered all over their walkways; and still others are totally ignoring the phenomenon.


I will not argue that cicadas are vital to our faith, but I do believe that there are facts about cicadas that can encourage it.  First and foremost, cicadas reflect the hand of their Creator and ours.  Please consider with me:

·      Cicadas are intricately designed with bright colors and delicate body parts.  They have been created with great care and flare.

·      Cicadas feed off trees, taking the nutrients converted by the trees from sun and soil and making those nutrient accessible for all the organisms that eat them; and then in turn, those organisms that consume cicadas provide food for the next higher members of the food chain, and so on.  The arrival of these cicadas represents a ripple effect of population growth at all levels.

·      Cicadas serve to functionally prune trees: as they lay their eggs in weak and dying branches, eliminating sections of trees that would otherwise drain the tree of energy that could be better used in serving healthier and more fruitful parts of the tree.

·      As cicadas die and decompose into the soil, they enrich the soil and boost the growth of trees and other plant life, again providing a broader foundation for the entire food chain.

·      Humans are part of the food chain, and some cultures regard them as either a food staple or a delicacy.  Cicadas have a place in history as providing food for a Native American tribe during a time of famine.

·      Humans benefit indirectly from cicadas as members of the food chain.  But beyond that, they remind us of time and seasons, of the rhythms of life given to us by the Lord.  They can even add depth to our stories and histories as we have opportunity to remember graduations or weddings or other family events punctuated with the buzz of cicadas.


Without doubt, cicadas are a powerful reminder that there are no casual components of creation, no after thoughts.  Cicadas are a glorious example of our Lord’s infinitely complex creation, with each piece unique in appearance and role as part of an amazing whole.


This is where we are invited to deepen our appreciation of our Lord and expand our faith.  Cicadas are uniquely created by God to play an important role in His creation.  To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, how much more significant are God’s purposes for us!  Each of us has been uniquely created to perform a particular, vital function within the body of Christ and as we do so, to fulfill the Lord’s eternal and glorious purposes for us.  


This, then, leads me to one last purpose/use of cicadas: regardless of what we might think of them—as curiosities, as a source of wonder, or as an annoyance—they are reminders that we are an integral part of God’s amazing and glorious creation.  May we continually praise Him for that.


Saturday, June 5, 2021

Normal Life and Beyond....

 There is good bit of talk about going back to normal as the pandemic recedes.  Many, I think more wisely, refer to a new normal.  I think it is easy to approach the next few months with a sense of appropriate excitement and anticipation.  But I believe that it is also wise to consider what moving into a post-pandemic life means for us, as individuals, families, and as a local body of Christ.


After the stresses, pain, and grief of the pandemic, going back to normal may sound pretty good.  But I have a few of observations about this.  First, our pre-pandemic normal may not have been particularly healthy and constructive.  While going backward may offer the security and comfort of familiarity, it offers little in the way of opportunities for growth.  Second, normal encourages comparisons with others and denies that each of us is unique, wonderful, and complete in Christ.  We need not concern ourselves with normal, past, present, or future.  And finally, while the pandemic may have put elements of our lives in suspended animation, it most definitely did not inhibit the Lord from continuing to do His work in us.  May heaven truly forbid our turning our back on what the Lord has been doing simply so that we can go back to normal.


So then, what about a new normal?  Again, I would prefer to avoid the mindset of normal because the term tends to confine us and bind us to some kind of script.  I think it is more helpful to look at post-pandemic life through the lens of faith.  Some of us have experienced significant if not horrific losses during this past year.  This is the time to grieve and to pursue recovery in the presence of our merciful Lord.  Most of us would do well to take a bit of time and prayerfully identify as best we can how the Lord has worked in and through the circumstances of this past year and then consider how we might best prosper His work in us.  If the pandemic has exposed areas of sin and brokenness, there is no better time than now to take time to confess and consider what repentance looks like as life begins to significantly change for us, again.  If the pandemic has given us the opportunity to develop routines and patterns that allow for better self-care, empower us to love more deeply, and/or invest in the Lord’s work in new ways, now is the time to consider how to sustain such growth and incorporate it into post-pandemic life.  


Normal life.  New normal life.  Abnormal Life.  Non-Normal Life.  May we pursue a life of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, making the most of our time, because the days are evil.



Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but

 as wise, making the most of your time, because the days 

are evil.


                                                            Ephesians 5:15-16




Saturday, May 22, 2021

Thoughts For These Days of Division

"Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens."

                                         Jimi Hendrix

"I have often regretted my speech, never my silence."


Monday, May 3, 2021

Reasons, Excuses, Explanations, and Change

 Three Christians walk into a Bible study…. The teacher is beginning a lesson on Galatians 5:19-24, the fruits of the flesh vs. the fruit of the Spirit.  


Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  24Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.


The first Christian listens for a moment and says to his companions as he walks out the door: “This isn’t for me.  I don’t need to change; God has already forgiven me.  I am going to live by faith in His grace.”


The second Christian listens to the teacher a little longer.  “I know that I need to control my temper,” he says to the friend next to him.  “But that is the way my father always dealt with frustration.  I am just like him.”  He, too, walks out the door.


The third Christian becomes increasingly uncomfortable as he continues to listen in a corner of the room.  He runs through his personal and family history in his head, a history marked by broken relationships, infidelity, addiction, and secrets.  But as he turns his attention back to the teacher, he is struck by the foundation of hope in Paul’s message: Godly behavior is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s work within him.  It is not—and cannot be—the result of independent human effort.  


Christian #3 starts to listen more carefully.  “It is absolutely essential to take Paul’s words seriously, to relinquish our dependence on the deeds of the flesh to feel good and to cope with a troubling and difficult world,” the teacher states.  “But it is equally essential to work with the Holy Spirit as we seek to become free from family patterns and personal sin patterns and to become like Christ and manifest the fruits of a Spirit-filled and Spirit-directed life.  We cannot change ourselves; when we try, we give up, or make excuses.  It is only when we allow the Holy Spirit to expose our sins and hurts and allow Him to touch us and heal us can we begin to turn from the lure of fleshly desires and pursue God’s best for us.”


The third Christian stays to the end of the study and waits for a chance to talk with the teacher.  They talk for a long while and agree to continue their conversation over the next several weeks.  He leaves a changed man, no longer feeling destined to repeat the sins of his fathers and prepared to allow the Holy Spirit to redeem his family history as He works in the deepest parts of his heart and soul.



When we are confronted with the personal and uncomfortable truths of Scripture, we have the same choices as our three fictional Christians.  We can refuse to deal with the truth and abuse the Lord’s grace.  We can look at the brokenness of our past and make excuses.  Or, we can look at our past and see the roots of sin that need to be pulled in order for us to become more who the Lord has created us to be, more faithful in following Him.  Understanding the reasons for our sin is helpful and often necessary in the process of Christian growth.  But it is crucial that we go beyond the “reason stage.”  Reasons are not excuses.  They are explanations that can empower genuine repentance.  But as we remember the words of the Apostle Paul, we must remember to invite the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us uncover the drivers of our sin and empower us to repent.  May we choose to keep company with our third Christian and his Bible study teacher.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Love, In and Beyond A Pandemic

 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  (Romans 12:15).


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23).


Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  (Matthew 7:1)



It has been over a year now since we have found ourselves living in a pandemic:  Masks, testing, quarantining, temperature checks, constant hand-washing, questionnaires, fear, hospitalizations, and death; isolation and separation, quiet holidays, canceled parties and vacations, remote learning and working, eating in, shipping and delivery headaches, long lines and scarce goods; derailed education and career plans, childcare challenges, job losses, and financial strain.  But there is now hope on the horizon and the promise of a gradual but steady return to “normal.”


For some of us, post-pandemic life will be a time to celebrate and take joy in the simple pleasures we have missed, to re- connect with loved ones, to take that postponed vacation.  For others of us, though, post-pandemic life will be a time to grieve losses of life, of financial stability, of opportunity, of health. 


And then there is the transition itself.  Some of us will seek vaccination as part of the process; others of us will not.  Several writers have commented in recent weeks that life post-COVID will be significantly different than life pre-COVID.  The way we define normal, our perspective about the future, and the way we negotiate this transition will be as unique as each of us.  Some will embrace the return of freedoms and opportunities and blaze a trail toward their new normal.  Others will remain cautious and tentative and move toward their new normal with some hesitation.


So as warm weather and gains against the pandemic bring relief from our long, cold, and depressing winter, it is nonetheless crucial that we remain committed to love others, within and without God’s family.  To genuinely rejoice with those who are rejoicing; but also to weep with those who weep; and to look upon those traveling a different transition road with love and acceptance.  I love the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to his Galatian readers to pursue the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  


I know of no scholar who would claim that Paul’s list is exclusive and exhaustive, and while I am not an inspired writer of God’s Word, I would love to see sensitivity make the list.  If we want to encourage others, we must cultivate an awareness that the person we are talking to in church or in line at the grocery store may have had a vastly different pandemic experience and a totally different approach to post-pandemic life than our own.  It is relatively easy to comfort someone when we ourselves are grieving.  And likewise, it is easier to celebrate with another when we ourselves are in a celebratory mood.  It is much easier to relate to someone whose situation and perspective are similar to ours.  But our Lord calls us to love beyond our comfort zone.


May we ask the abiding Holy Spirit to work in our hearts and mind that we might bear abundant fruit that will encourage and bless all those in our path.


Monday, February 15, 2021

Love Without Romance


It is said that in polite society, we do not discuss politics or religion.  Today, I am going to do both, at the same time.  As residents of the United States, we find ourselves in a veritable morass of political, racial, and economic divisions that reach across all religious beliefs and practices.  I am not interested in mounting a soapbox and making my case about what convictions we hold.  I am much more concerned about how we come to our convictions and how we express and exercise them.  Even though the news has been calling our current times as unprecedented, the writers of the Bible do not seem to be strangers to conflict and controversy, even among believers.  We would do well to consider their words.


It matters what we believe.  Both Matthew and Luke record words of Jesus that are as relevant in our no-absolute-truth culture as they were in the first century:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.  Matthew 7:24-27.


No one can avoid all the storms of living as a fallen creature in a fallen world; but building our lives on the foundation of Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life can enable us to avoid at least many of the pitfalls of these storms.  Yet Scripture does not give us a blueprint for what that looks like.  The Christian life is not about religious performance; nor does Scripture provide a flow chart for us.  The Christian life is about cultivating a growing and intimate faith relationship with the Lord of the universe and then expressing that relationship in what we do and how we treat others.


Romans 14 has become one of my favorite passages in the New Testament.  I would encourage you to spend some time reading it and processing the words of the Apostle Paul.  In this epistle, Paul is addressing a dilemma that is causing controversy among believers living in the very secular city of Rome.  At issue is the eating of meat sacrificed to idols and/or eating meat of unknown origin, that might have originated from pagan worship practices.  Some believers are so horrified at the thought any association with idol worship that they are choosing to avoid meat altogether and eat only vegetables.  Others see nothing wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols in whom they do not believe and who, according to their faith, are not real.  Some of us may be surprised to see Paul take the position of freedom: he sees nothing wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols who do not represent anything that is spiritually material.


But Paul is not pronouncing his position in order to prescribe appropriate Christian behavior.  He does not denounce those who are abstaining from meat; nor does he exhort those who hold his “freedom” position to straighten their brethren out.  Instead, he uses the division of opinion to teach two important principles.  The first is that each believer is responsible for living before Christ, with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  We are to develop and practice our convictions in the context of our dynamic relationship with the Lord.  Our convictions are the outworking of our faith and walk in Christ and often reflect our personal history, experiences, and maturity of faith.  The conviction held by one believer may not be appropriate for a brother or sister to hold!  So while there is the absolute truth of Christ, there is not necessarily one right way to translate that truth into our lives.  The second principle is that we are not to regard our convictions as a standard to be used to judge one another or to feel superior to someone who holds a different—and sometimes contradictory—position.  We are to be sensitive in our interactions with and behavior toward one another so that none of us is caused to stumble or is the cause of stumbling.  Paul warns us that as important as convictions of faith are, using them to achieve self-righteousness is utterly. un-Christian.


In his letter to the Philippians (the well-known Chapter 13), Paul reinforces these thoughts by reminding the believers in Philippi that doing great things in Christ has no eternal value if they are not done out of love.  If we speak in tongues, if we prophesy with power, if we move mountains in faith, if we give all we have in ministry, and even if we die a martyr’s death, such activity will fail to advance the work of Christ and His kingdom if it is not generated by our faith relationship with Christ, manifested in love, and expressed as the outworking of the indwelling Holy Spirit.


Paul calls the body of Christ to unity: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:28).  In these days of division, in the United States I would love to add that there is neither Republican nor Democrat; neither black nor white; neither Hispanic, Latino, Asian, nor White.  Paul underscores his point with this admonishment a bit later in his letter: For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”   But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.  Galatians 5:13-15.


Jesus told His disciples that the world would associate His disciples with Him not by their strident convictions, not by their self-righteous behavior, but by their love: By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13:35.


Our God is a God of restoration, reconciliation, and redemption.  This is illustrated no more powerfully than in Jesus’s death to cover our sins and restore our relationship with our loving Creator.  While the conflict, controversy, and division of these times could be used as tools by Satan to rip us apart, they also represent opportunities for the members of Christ’s body to prosper the work of the Holy Spirt in us and among us, to deepen our love for one another so that as a body, we may manifest God’s goodness and glory to a world desperate for genuine Good News.