June 29, 2014

Discerning...what is good

We’re looking at Romans 12:9-16 as what John Stott calls a recipe for Christian living. Last time we considered the first section and how to have genuine, sincere, honest love. The second step is discerning or figuring out what is good and what is evil.

A story attributed to Taoist monks comes to mind:
This farmer had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to condole over his terrible loss. The farmer said, "Who knows what is good and what is bad?"
A month later, the horse came home--this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer's good fortune. Such lovely strong horses! The farmer said, "Who knows what is good and what is bad?"
The farmer's son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed. Such bad luck! The farmer said, "Who knows what is good and what is bad?"
A war came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer's son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. "Who knows what is good and what is bad?" said the farmer.

It is certainly true that something that looks terrible one day, can turn out to be a blessing down the road, and vice versa. In Romans Paul is talking about something much deeper, though. He advises us to “hate (abhor) what is evil, hold fast (cleave) to what is good”. How do we do that? As the farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

There are certainly some things that are truly evil. Some are easy to identify as evil: abuse (of children, pets, spouses, etc.), murder, stealing, etc. It is the more subtle, gray areas that are harder to put in the good or evil category. Things like ‘did you hear about…’ and ‘who does he think he is…’ and unforgiveness.

Perhaps the discerning of good and evil ties back to the first part of this citation… When we weigh something against the scale of genuine, sincere love, we can start to decide if it is good or evil. In James 3:17, Paul explains that “wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Learning to discern good and evil begins with sincere love. Good brings mercy and bears good fruit. Jesus tells his disciples, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should last…love one another.” (John 15:16)

When actions are loving, they build up one another and are good. Things that destroy community and relationships are evil. Gossip may not seem to be AS evil as murder or child abuse, but in that it tears the fabric of loving relationship, it is evil. Anger and/or an unforgiving spirit may appear to be evil, esp. if we are just simmering inside about some perceived slight or someone else’s mistake. Jesus takes a different view. In one of the ‘hard sayings’ he tells the crowds, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister* has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,* and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24)

When I am angry, jealous, gossiping, and being unforgiving, I am breaking the bonds between me and someone else. I am rending the community in small and large ways. That is not the way of God’s love. That is not what we are called to do, nor how we are called to live.

We are chosen by our Lord to bring God’s love to the world. We are to forgive as we are forgiven (70 x 7 and more). We are, as Paul notes in 1 Timothy 1:5, to “love…from a pure heart and a good conscience.” We are God’s hands and feet to the world and that means we are called to choose the good, choose the way of Love and reconciliation instead of our own path of ‘my way or the highway’.

Wow-that’s hard! Lucky we have God to help us! And oh my goodness…I have a lot of work to do! As Laurie Brock notes in her blog DirtySexy Ministry we are not supposed to fix each other, but to walk with one another in our individual and corporate journey of healing. Mother Teresa stated, “Reconciliation begins not first with others but with ourselves: by allowing Jesus to clean us -- to forgive us, to love us.” Even so Lord Jesus, help us each to discern and seek and do what is good.

Let love be genuine (sincere, honest); hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are

June 22, 2014

Let Love be Sincere

Last week we looked at the call to be ‘brave’ and live Spirit-filled Pentecost lives. How do we do that? John Stott suggests that one way is to really live the guidelines found in Romans 12:9-16. For the next few weeks, we’ll look at the attributes of these verses and what they might say to us in our Christian walk.
St. Paul says “Let love be genuine”. Other translations say “Don’t just pretend to love others” (NLT), “Let love be without hypocrisy” (NASB), “Let love be without dissimulation” (NKJV). The NIV translates the verse “Let love be sincere”.
Just what does ‘sincere’ mean? We may use a word and not really stop to think about what it really means because we are sure we know. The dictionary says sincere means ‘honest and open, in an unaffected way, based on what is truly and deeply felt.’ In other words our love should be real, honest, and true toward God and one another.
Real Love…the first thing that comes to my mind is the Velveteen Rabbit. We all know the story of the toy rabbit who eventually becomes real. Early on, he talks to the Skin Horse and learns what it takes to become real.

What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."
The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

We all want to be real and to love (and be loved) sincerely. Sometimes the truth is that those who are supposed to love and care for us, don’t. God never stops loving us, though. However, like the Rabbit, we’d rather we didn’t have to deal with the messy relationships and the hurts of life that seem to get in the way of being loving. In fact, it is the very things we think we’d rather do without that form us and make us more real. Like the Boy, God loves us through and in all our experiences. The world suggests that if we aren’t ‘perfect’ and ‘successful’ we aren’t ‘lovable’. God’s love says the opposite. Especially when we aren’t neat and tidy and ‘perfect’, God knows and loves the Real you and me. The Rabbit learns this as the Boy loves him.

Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn't mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn't matter.

As the Skin Horse says, when someone “REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” God REALLY loves us, the good parts and the parts we’d like to pretend aren’t there. The sharp edges and sharp tongues we might have are loved just as much as the prayerful, quiet times. The days we fail to live up to being sincerely loving or even being very lovable at all are the days that God takes us in God’s arms to say, ‘you are precious to me, every moment and every emotion’! In the joys and even more in the losses of our lives God is there.
Of course, you remember that the Boy becomes ill and when he recovers the Dr. says that all that he touched must be burned. And we fear for the Rabbit who is sad that the Boy has gone away. Then something special happens…

Of what use was it to be loved and lose one's beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.
And then a strange thing happened. For where the tear had fallen a flower grew out of the ground, a mysterious flower, not at all like any that grew in the garden. It had slender green leaves the colour of emeralds, and in the center of the leaves a blossom like a golden cup. It was so beautiful that the little Rabbit forgot to cry, and just lay there watching it. And presently the blossom opened, and out of it there stepped a fairy.
She was quite the loveliest fairy in the whole world. Her dress was of pearl and dew-drops, and there were flowers round her neck and in her hair, and her face was like the most perfect flower of all. And she came close to the little Rabbit and gathered him up in her arms and kissed him on his velveteen nose that was all damp from crying.
"Little Rabbit," she said, "don't you know who I am?"
The Rabbit looked up at her, and it seemed to him that he had seen her face before, but he couldn't think where.
"I am the nursery magic Fairy," she said. "I take care of all the playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children don't need them anymore, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real."
"Wasn't I Real before?" asked the little Rabbit.
"You were Real to the Boy," the Fairy said, "because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to everyone."

Love that is Genuine, Sincere, and Real transforms us and transforms those with whom we share that love. When we are able to quit being concerned about our own ‘rights’ and having our own way and being in control, we can be open to allowing the Love of God to flow through us. It’s not a one way street, for the Sincere Love we give is the Genuine Love that comes back and transforms us, too. God’s love makes us more Real than we were before.
Like the Rabbit, we won’t find it easy to become Genuine and Sincere in our relationships as Pentecost people. Our rough places will get bumped and scuffed off. The world may not understand us. Our beautiful exterior will no longer matter for the Love of God will shine through. Then we’ll be Real to everyone.

Stop by again to explore further more of these verses from Romans.

 Let love be genuine (sincere, honest); hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

June 15, 2014

Be of Good Courage

Pentecost was last Sunday. The disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit and began to preach the Gospel to the world as they had been instructed. As heirs of their mission and ministry, we are also called to share the Good News. That can sometimes make us intimidated. “How can I do anything to further the Kingdom?” we might say, “I’m just one person with no influence.”

We (read I) can get caught in the trap of thinking we have to do something grand and glorious to make a difference and get frightened when asked to step outside our comfort zone. “Be of good courage,” Jesus says, “I have overcome the world.” Instead of trusting in the Spirit, we worry about what others might think if we speak up or act for Jesus. Recently I heard Sara Bareilles sing her song Brave live on the Ellen Show. I’d heard it before, but never really listened to the words. This time they really jumped out at me as if they were something the Spirit might have said in those tongues of fire on Pentecost. “Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out. Honestly I wanna see you be brave.” Maybe the Spirit is saying that to us today. As Bareilles says:
Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing, Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is.

If you haven’t ever heard the song, you can see a version here, with lyrics:

If we believe God is greater than any situation, then we can be “brave”. Bareilles challenges “Let your words be anything but empty. Why don’t you tell them the truth?” As Pentecost people, representatives of the One who conquered the grave, we CAN be filled with the courage of the Spirit and speak the truth of the Good News!

In John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples “"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Listening to and following the Spirit’s leading in the season of Pentecost and every day isn’t necessarily easy. Jesus himself warns “you will have trouble”. What we can be assured of is that God is with us every step of the way. Having spent a week in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone recently I can think about all that grandeur and beauty created by the One who also created and loves us and know that God is bigger than anything that may cross our path.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at what John Stott called the recipe for living a Christian life found in Romans 12:9-16. Come along with me as we explore the dozen attributes listed in these verses:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

June 8, 2014

When the Day of Pentecost Had Come

Today you will probably hear this reading if you go to church. Stop for a few minutes later and consider how radical the message Peter preached was to the Jews in Jerusalem that morning. No wonder they thought he was drunk! Is your faith radical enough that people think you are out of your mind?

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
   and signs on the earth below,
     blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
     before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth,* a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
   for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
   moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
   or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
   you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David* spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
   nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at
* the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
   until I make your enemies your footstool.’
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah,
* this Jesus whom you crucified.’
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers,* what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2)

June 1, 2014

In the Breaking of the Bread

Since Easter we’ve been looking at the 4 Gospel accounts of the women who came to the tomb on the first day of the week-only to find the stone rolled away and Jesus risen. Mary Magdalene features in all these accounts, but there are others to whom Jesus appeared that first Easter day. Among them are Cleopas and his companion. Last year I wrote about the response of these witnesses. Today, we continue our theme of the changes wrought by the Resurrection experience in those who encountered the Risen Lord.

Mary found herself turning from Dark to Light, the Myrhh Bearers found that there was a new and deeper righteousness than tradition. The angel told the women to “Look and See”. The Resurrection ushered in a new creation and we are called to be part of that creation. So, too, are we called to both see life through new eyes and be seen as witnesses to that new life.

Cleopas and his friend left Jerusalem feeling very sad. All their hopes for Messiah have been dashed by the Crucifixion. They tell the Stranger who joins them, “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” (Luke 24:20-24)

Even though they have heard the report of the women, they cannot believe that such a thing is possible. While it isn’t stated, the men probably mutter that “the women had some sort of hysterical response to finding the body gone.” After all, Peter and John checked it out and didn’t see Jesus.

The Stranger sets them straight, How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Cleopas and his friend may have stopped and stared at the Man with them. This was not the normal teaching of the rabbis. He doesn’t stop there. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

It’s no wonder that they ask him to stay and eat with them when they arrive in Emmaus. The pair have found hope in the Stranger’s words. They want to hear more. Instead, they get a revelation of Who their Companion has been when “he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.” In that moment they understood and he “vanished”.

Immediately “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.” During the seven mile walk-or more likely run-the pair were, no doubt, buoyed by the amazing news they had to share. When they arrived, “they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.” (Luke 24:33-35) 

Jesus had revealed himself to Cleopas and companion in the ‘breaking of the bread’-reminiscent of the Last Supper with them all and foreshadowing the Eucharist. The travelers went from great sadness to greater joy when they understood that the Lord was indeed alive and that all that happened was part of the fuller plan of salvation history.

Where does Jesus reveal himself here and now? How does Jesus among us impact and inform our own walk of faith?

This Sunday as you receive the Eucharist, I offer to you a saying attributed to St. Augustine:
See what you BelieveBecome what you See

As the Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood, are presented, consider all that those elements mean and represent. Oswald Chambers reminds us, “The process of being made broken bread and poured-out wine means that you have to be the nourishment for other people’s souls until they learn to feed on God. They must drain you completely— to the very last drop. But be careful to replenish your supply, or you will quickly be utterly exhausted. Until others learn to draw on the life of the Lord Jesus directly, they will have to draw on His life through you. You must literally be their source of supply, until they learn to take their nourishment from God. We owe it to God to be our best for His lambs and sheep, as well as for Him.”

How can you and I be the Broken Bread and Poured Out Wine to those we meet day-to-day?
See you in Pentecost!