“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another (Galatians 5: 13).”
This fourth of July weekend we will fire up the grill, cool off by the pool, eat watermelon, and hang out with friends and family while watching fireworks. Chances are that, at some point, discussions will be had about the state of our country, and anxieties will be aired. There is widespread concern about the health of our democracy rooted in an ineffective legislature, the quality (or lack thereof) available for Presidential leadership, about immigration policy, about ongoing violence, and about the general lack of clarity regarding what holds us together as Americans.
We are, thank God, blessed to enjoy living in the land of the free, and that is to be celebrated. As Christians and Americans, we should also spend some time reflecting on what exactly our freedom is for. Freedom implies we are free from something that binds us while at the same time implying that we are free to do something we could not when we were bound. In popular conversations we often talk about our freedom as though it means we ought to be allowed to do whatever we want without boundaries or concerns for the impact of our behavior on others. This is simply irresponsible and a destructive way to live. If I choose to change lanes while driving because “it’s a free country” regardless of whether someone else is in that lane or not, I will cause a crash, destruction of property and endangerment to human life.
Paul’s words to the Galatians make a specific point: God calls us to be free from the burden of trying to earn a right relationship with God on our own power so we can be free to live fully in the grace and Spirit of Jesus Christ! In Christ, we are free from the burden of living by a list of 613 rules and free to love and serve God and others by following the Spirit!
I find Paul’s words not only a great reminder to Christians about the purpose of our lives but also a great reminder of what makes a democracy work…those who freely, lovingly choose to serve one another. Freedom is, after all, not given primarily for our personal enjoyment but for service to the greater good God intends for creation in God’s Kingdom.
Lord, help us all look for ways to use our freedom to serve and love one another in our families, our church, our community, our country, and our world by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
While away on vacation, I just read the horrible news of the night club shooting in Orlando. As Christians, it is vitally important that we stand with our fellow citizens, neighbors and friends against such evil and destruction. Right now, the best way to do this is to do what we can to offer care and support to victims and their families.
The most urgent need is for blood to be given in hopes of saving the lives of the injured. I don’t have access to timely information but I trust you can find out the particulars. Secondly, let us offer comfort and support, the love of Jesus in action, to anyone we know who is being impacted by this act of hateful violence. Listen, talk, share, pray with and on behalf of those affected. This is a time when human beings, whom God made in His image with love and care, are in need of others to show them the love of Christ.
This is a wake up call for all of us to take time to know our neighbors. Invite them over. Talk to them when you get the mail. Share lawn care items and such with them. Get to know what they think and believe and do. Though knowing our neighbors won’t solve terrorism, a strong community can be a defense system that identifies those vulnerable to extremism and those vulnerable to acts of violence of any kind.
Finally, of course, pray! Pray for God to open every heart to the grace and love of God, given us through Jesus Christ, which can make anyone whole, turn hatred to forgiveness, sickness to healing, even death to life. Humanity demonstrates over and over that we are not capable of saving ourselves. We depend on God’s grace to bring peace to our brokenness.
I am confident that God’s Kingdom of love and light will one day express its reign over all! In the meantime, Jesus calls us to replace evil with good. Let us reveal God’s goodness to the world in the way we respond today.
Peace of Jesus to all,
We have been enjoying a good season of welcoming many visitors and new members into the life and ministry of our congregation this year, and I anticipate that we will be welcoming many more in coming years. I feel that God wants us to be prepared so I have started reading a good book called Untamed Hospitality: Welcoming God and Other Strangers by Elizabeth Newman. It is a rich theological treasure for the deep reader to understand that hospitality is in the very nature of God and is, therefore, to be part of the very nature of God’s Church.
One of the most powerful takeaways from the book so far is the idea that worship is God expressing hospitality to us by inviting us to be with Him and with each other. “I claim that worship itself is hospitality. Rightly understood, worship is not something we have to make happen. Rather, when God gathers us to worship, we are brought by the power of the Holy Spirit into a worship already taking place in the life of God (pg. 17).” Imagine that! We tend to think of worship from our point of view. We set our alarm. We drag ourselves awake on a weekend morning. We muscle the kids around to make sure they are fed and dressed and not too crabby when they arrive, and we choose what seat we want to sit in. But if what Elizabeth Newman writes is true, then it is God who stirs in us a desire or need to set our alarm and get ready for worship. That feeling or impulse is God’s Spirit inviting us to meet in the building we call a church with the people God calls the Church so we can connect with one another, be in one another’s presence, and be filled, forgiven, healed and blessed by God’s love and grace through Jesus.
I know summer time is coming in the next few weeks and many of us will be traveling. Wherever you are, next time you think about worship, think to yourself, “That’s God inviting me to be with Him and His people, to bless me with his grace and love.” Next time you are debating whether it’s worth it to get up and go worship, wherever you are, remember to talk directly to God about God’s invitation to you. I think what Newman says about God’s invitation to us to worship is powerful: “The invitation to worship is an invitation to be incorporated into the Body of Christ. As such, it is always a gift, in the receiving of which we are called to wait and see what God is doing.” When we see all of the good God is doing, all the gifts God is giving us through Jesus and the Spirit and each other, we better learn how to be hospitable by inviting others to be with us so we can share God’s gifts.
Be praying about who God wants you to share the love of Christ with in words and deeds in the months ahead. These are the very people God may prompt you to invite to worship to receive God’s gifts!
Peace and Joy of Jesus,
“…but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).”
So many in our fellowship and in my relationship circles have been wrestling with family illness or personal tragedy in the last few weeks. Some are working through the health issues their aging parents face. A friend faced the death of a young niece. An acquaintance is eye to eye with a tumor in a young child. Another friend attended the burial of his wife. So much struggle and suffering in our broken world.
I’ve heard people say things like, “God never gives you more than you can handle (which is not in the Bible, by the way),” and “God is in control.” These statements essentially say that God is the one to blame for such suffering and tragedy. Unlike some, I do not believe God made these events happen. I believe they are signs of the broken nature of our world. Things do not always work the way they were intended, not because God designed them poorly, but because, somehow, the disorder of human Sin has impacted every sphere of life. Let me be clear, I’m not saying that each person’s suffering is directly caused by their particular sins, though that may, at times be the case. I am saying that our collective human Sin has disordered the world in such a way that we all suffer for it.
So how do Christians keep hope when encountering suffering? Romans 5: 1-5 is an important passage for us. It tells us that, even in suffering, God is at work, refining us, shaping us, and making us ready for eternal life. In suffering, we are people of hope because we worship a God who, in Jesus Christ, comes directly to us where we hurt so that he can, through death and resurrection, bring healing and eternal life.
Though it is hard work that only the grace of God can accomplish, our call is to look for God working in and through the suffering and to offer ourselves to be used by God to bring the comfort and peace of Jesus to the suffering of others.
“Lord, give us the strength of your Holy Spirit to love you and others even when circumstances make that very difficult. Give us courage to enter suffering while holding onto the hope of your coming eternal Kingdom in which there will be no more mourning or crying or pain and in which death will be no more! Amen!’
I learned a new term from a friend a few weeks ago…”FOMO.” I learned it during a tour of St. Augustine during which my friend continually had to rush to the front of the line to be as close to the tour guide as possible. As he scurried through the crowd he said, “Excuse me…sorry…I have a bad case of FOMO.” Then he explained, “It means ‘Fear Of Missing Out!'”
If a person has a fear of missing out, they are constantly trying to take in every experience possible, then trying to add more. Ever try overstuffing a grocery bag only to have it break and pour out onto the floor? Or ever try carrying in too many things from your car at one time and leaving a trail of stuff throughout the garage? I don’t know about you, though I don’t believe I suffer from FOMO, I feel like my life is so full of end of school year events that I’m leaving a trail behind me of stuff I’ve dropped! (Sorry if I haven’t answered your email!)
I talked with someone this week whose health is poor, but whose heart is full. He told me his secret. He is reminded every day he opens his eyes that he has been given a gift. His basic needs are met, and he is content with that! CONTENTMENT! WOW! Seems to me this word has been lost in our FOMO world!
Here is what 1 Timothy says about it: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (6-8).”
We all want to live lives full of meaning and the good gifts of God. One of the keys to a great quality of life is to know when we are full, when enough is enough, when we simply enjoy and give thanks for all that God has given without the “Fear Of Missing Out” on more.
“Lord Jesus, your gifts to us are many…more than we can count! Help us make time in the busyness of the season to thank you for food, for clothes, for friends and family, and for opening our eyes! Give us the grace to be content…in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen!”
” 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Hebrews 12: 5-6
When my kids were in the throes of the “terrible twos” (which weren’t so terrible), Julie and I had to focus much of our energy on teaching our kids right from wrong through discipline. Now that they are older they are learning to discipline themselves, choosing priorities, dedicating the time they are given to sports, art, and studies while saying no to other things. I don’t know about you, but I’m still learning how to stay disciplined!
Sometimes we only think of discipline as a correction to destructive actions and we forget that it should also be an encouragement to life giving actions. Gracefully, lovingly, God disciplines us both ways, sometimes correcting us and other times encouraging us. In both ways, God’s discipline is an act of love intended to keep us living on the path to good lives for ourselves and others.
To grow in numbers as a church, we must first grow in our disciplined (focused, intentional) love for God and others. In fact, we will grow to become a people who asks each other “how is it going?” and really wants to know so that we can pray for and encourage one another to love and good deeds. Who knew, love and discipline go together!