In the Face of the Bad, Practice the Better

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 12:Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

O (Observation):  Paul was said to have had a physical ailment that kept him from ever being fully healthy, physically.   I’d have to do more research on this, but regardless of the ailment, Paul makes a theological point.

Paul understands his physical ailment, or weakness, to be reminded that he is not whole…not without Christ.  Paul understands that even though he is weak, that simply makes room for Christ to show up and make him whole.  

What does it look like for Christ to make Paul whole?  Jesus’ grace, filling in where Paul is weak. 

A (Application):  When Christians throw around knowledge or Scripture to publicly condemn Christians or non-Christians, I get more than a little irked.   Maybe I get irked because I have a hard time with rebuttals.  I need time to think something through, and to consider all the angles before I respond.  When I respond too hastily, I find that I get too emotional in my responses, or too narrow-minded.   

We can all serve as Jesus did, sharing the Gospel, bringing healing and forgiveness, even bringing new life where there is none.   But when others criticize you for it, don’t feel like you need a rebuttal.   If you are doing something in Christ’s name that is giving life to something or someone else, fear not.  Embrace the apparent weakness, that Jesus’ grace might be sufficient to satisfy you.    

As we take the example of Jesus, we might simply turn from the negative attitudes around us, and do something GOOD in response.  Richard Rohr shares the core values of the Center for Action and Contemplation on their website.  One core principle is this:

“the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”

As Christians and non-Christians alike try to knock you down when you serve or speak in the name of Jesus…let them…for in your weakness, Jesus’ grace will fill you.  Practice the better. Let this be Jesus’ way of filling you with grace.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with your grace, that we might practice the better in the face of the bad.  Amen.  

From Spiritual To Material

S (Scripture): Romans 15:23 But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24 when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; 26 for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. 28 So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain…

O (Observation): Paul is always on the move.  He is graced with the blessing of being an apostle – always out on the frontier.   And loving it, since this is his calling for the most part.  

In his travels amongst places where he was establishing churches, he found that the churches in Macedonia and Achaia were eager to offer their resources to the churches in Rome. Paul was carrying this offering and wishing to go to Spain, but to visit the church in Rome and drop off this offering as part of what he hoped to be an epic journey to Spain. 

The spiritual impact in the faith communities started and helped by Paul has led to material offerings and support to other churches.   

A (Application):  As a pastor, I have the blessing of sharing God’s generous spirit with the congregation I serve and with the wider community.  Our spiritual blessing leads us to material generosity.   

We have found that money follows ministry.  We like to get caught up in scarcity, but our God is always surprising us in ways unimaginable.   Where will the money come from?  I don’t know.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t and we have to shift plans.   But we are always discerning our way forward…always wondering what God is saying to us, and wondering what God wants us to do.   

As we continue to wonder, we see fruit coming from our times of discernment.  We have a Cub Scout group and a home school co-op using our building during the week.  We host a quilting ministry, Bible study, worship, a Zumba class, a free exchange program, called Weecycle, which meets in our parking lot twice a month.  We give to the wider church, at a rate of 8% of regular offerings, and we donate to various local ministries.  We partner with other organizations to show love to our neighbor (as I wrote about in yesterday’s post).   

We are blessed, and we want to share this blessing with others.   We are not worthy, but for what we have, we give thanks.   And in our discernment, we sense God calling us to pay forward the blessings we have received so that others might experience the same blessings.   Sometimes that blessing is money, sometimes it is time, sometimes it is sharing a promotion of an event or such.  

We move from spiritual to material.   How about you?

P (Prayer):  Lord, you are generous.  Help us to be generous, too.  Amen.  

Thinking of Yourself Less

S (Scripture): Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith. 4 For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, 5 so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another. 6 And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is service, he must serve; if it is teaching, he must teach; 8 if it is exhortation, he must exhort; if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity; if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence; if it is showing mercy, he must do so with cheerfulness.

O (Observation):  Paul is nearing he end of his letter to the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome.   Neither the Greek nor the Jew is a “better” or “more faithful” follower of God.  Each has their own troubles and is made righteous by grace alone, apart from any good work.  

A (Application):  Humility, then, is the key to the Christian walk. And if humble, then one would think to serve others first.  Yes, we need to take care of ourselves, but I have been surprised by God at the “plenty” that I feel I have in response to being generous in my giving.  Not that we have had a windfall of money, but we have enough.  

The same goes for serving others with the gifts God has given us.  As we give, according to imhow we are gifted, we feel renewed, even if we wore ourselves out serving someone else.  

A good way to sum this up is in the quote I leave with you today…a quote (maybe from CS Lewis?) I read somewhere on my journey:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself…but thinking of yourself less.  


P (Prayer): Lord, help me to know I have all I need in your grace: enough for me and my family, and enough for us to serve others in this world.  Amen.  

Taking Grace for Granted

S (Scripture): Romans 4:9 Is this blessedness then for the circumcision or also for the uncircumcision? For we say, “faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited to him? Was he circumcised at the time, or not? No, he was not circumcised but uncircumcised! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised, so that he would become the father of all those who believe but have never been circumcised, that they too could have righteousness credited to them. 12 And he is also the father of the circumcised, who are not only circumcised, but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham possessed when he was still uncircumcised.

O (Observation):  In chapter 4, Paul opens up a diatribe directed towards the Jews.  He makes references to Abraham and David, important figures to Jews, but who mean nothing to the Gentiles.  

Now, a big deal for the Jews was the outward sign of the covenant between God and God’s people.  God declared to Abraham that God would make out of Abraham a great people, and kings would come from his line of descendants.  The people of Abraham, in return, would then circumcise their male children as a sign that they are God’s people.  After all, God commanded that the people circumcise their male children as a sign of faithfulness on the people’s part.  

Over time, circumcision was seen as the work of the people to show their dedication to God.  But also, circumcision became this sort of entry into God’s covenant without any real impact on the life of God’s people.  They basically started taking God’s grace for granted.   They began to think that if one was circumcised, one basically had a free ticket to Abraham’s lineage and that one who was circumcised could do no wrong.   

And then, eventually, circimcision became the EXCLUSIVE way to God’s grace.   The Hebrew people took circumcision as the “be all, end all” sign of God’s grace.  They began to believe that the only way to God’s grace and inheritance was to be circumcised, to the exclusion of all other ways and people.  The prevailing mindset of the Hebrew people became this:  Gentiles were CERTAINLY not ever going to be a part of God’s family.  

So, when Jesus and Paul started challenging this idea of the exclusive availaiblity of God’s grace, this was a major challenge to the theology and customs of the Hebrew people. 

Paul is making the case that Abraham wasn’t circumcised when he was graced with God’s promises.  The circumcision was simply an outward sign of an inward grace.   Circumcision was the result of receiving God’s grace, not the cause of receiving it.  

Paul was calling on the Jews to humble themselves and to give some thought to the idea that grace and blessing are possible outside of circumcision.  

A (Application):  Churches these days have all kinds of odd customs to make people feel like they are part of the church (or NOT part of it).  Some are new customs, but even ancient rites seem to lose their impact.  

As sacred as it is for me, I wonder if those not of the Christian faith view baptism today just like Gentiles viewed circumcision back in Paul’s day?  I hope not!  But then, I wonder.  

Circumcision back in Paul’s day is not the same thing as baptism, but I can see how it might be viewed this way.  As if baptism was the exclusive way for God’s grace to work.   

I have spoke about this before, how we as Christians can start to use our baptism like Jews used circumcision:  as a tool of exclusion and as something we take for granted!

We practice making people feel welcome in our congregation, even though I’m sure we fall short.  But we really try to help people feel welcome, even if they have not been baptized.  We view becoming a part of our congregation as an exploratory journey towards baptism.  Some will be baptized and receive God’s Spirit in this way, but I have to believe that God can instill faith in other ways, too.   

God continues to surprise us all (as seen in Scripture and in my own personal experiences).    To narrow down God’s avenues of grace is dangerous territory for me (or anyone).

So, should we get rid of baptism?  Certainly not!  Is baptism still a good thing?  Absolutely!

So let us treat all people with respect.   Let us be diligent in not taking baptism for granted.   Let us be forgiving as God forgives and graces us. 

What “hang ups” do you have about the Christian Church these days?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to be grateful for your grace.  Amen.  

What Do You Do With the Truth?

S (Scripture): Romans 3:9 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 10 just as it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one, 11 there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.”

O (Observation):  Paul continues to show that even though Jews and Gentiles alike receive mercy from God, neither has an advantage over the other, except that the Jews simply received the possibility of salvation first.   

And the fact that God’s righteousness covers our faults doesn’t mean that the Gentiles or the Jews should feel superior over the other.  Rather, both have sinned in their own way. 

A (Application):  Division.   That seems to be constantly on my mind these days.   Who’s right?  Who’s wrong?  What is truth?   Why do some people feel like they own the truth?  Is it for the sake of control?   Is it because having a certain “truth” makes someone feel more comfortable?  Like they have somehow “arrived”?

Division gets under my skin and I’m learning more and more how to not let it control me and then anger me (and apologize when I get too zealous).   

How do we know what we know?  And how do we know if it is truth?   I’m not really sure time is the answer, because it can take us hundreds or even thousands of years to prove something is not truth (earth ain’t flat; sun is center of universe, not Earth; etc.)!   

So, do we believe in anything?  Yes!  But perhaps how we carry that truth is just as important as the truth we carry. 

To the Jew: boast in grace, not in your Jewish lineage.  

To the Gentile: boast in grace, not in your freedom apart from the law.  
To the 21st century Christian: boast in the fact that God knows you, and not just in what you think you know about God.   

P (Prayer):  Lord, make me humble.  Amen. 

Unity or Uniformity?

S (Scripture): Romans 1:1 From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. 2 This gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh, 4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name. 6 You also are among them, called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

O (Observation):  Paul is thick.  Like fudge brownie mix thick.  These verses are so packed with meaning and relevance.  For today…a 30,000 foot view…

Paul knows that Jews and Gentiles are starting to believe in Jesus Christ, made to be the Son of God, the first of all to be resurrected, and that all who believe in him (as the Messiah and Son of God) are given grace and responsibility (apostleship) to share this news with the whole world.   

The Church in Rome (like many places in Paul’s day) is a mix of Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus as the Christ, and so Paul goes about addressing BOTH of them in this letter to the Church in Rome.  He mentions that Jesus is a son of David in the flesh (a part of the Jewish lineage from Abraham) and yet he appeals to the Gentiles, too, noting that the Gospel is extended to them, as well.  

In sum, Paul is addressing Jewish and Gentile Christians of the Church in Rome.  

A (Application): What to do with Paul?   He’s trying really hard to bring a word of peace to a divided church.  He’s making the case for Jewish Christians to respect Gentile Christians and vice versa. 

You’ll have to keep reading through Romans to see what I mean.   Paul calls on Jews to respect the fact that their faith (or even Abraham) is not their ticket to salvation: God’s grace is the key factor.   And he will tell the Gentiles, just because you don’t have to follow the traditions of the Law, doesn’t mean you get to do whatever the heck you want.  You must still respect that the struggle of good and evil still exists.  

The Church in America is very much divided today.   Who follows what traditions?  What is required of the Church and its people?   How do we seek unity without uniformity?

Here is a relevant quote from Richard Rohr in his daily email from today (3/7/17): 

Unity is diversity embraced, protected, and maintained by an infinitely generous love. It takes grace and love and the Spirit to achieve unity. Uniformity can be achieved by coercion, shame, and fear. Unfortunately, most churches have confused uniformity with true spiritual unity for centuries. But church formed in this way is by definition not the church. As Catherine LaCugna says, “The nature of the church should manifest the nature of God.” 

Let’s keep on journeying through Romans this Lent.  Good fodder awaits.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us mindful of the “other.”   Amen.  

Open Our Eyes, Lord

S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 22:10
When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she was determined to destroy the entire royal line of Judah. 11 So Jehoshabeath, the daughter of King Jehoram, took Ahaziah’s son Joash and sneaked him away from the rest of the royal descendants who were to be executed. She hid him and his nurse in the room where the bed covers were stored. So Jehoshabeath the daughter of King Jehoram, wife of Jehoiada the priest and sister of Ahaziah, hid him from Athaliah so she could not execute him. 12 He remained in hiding in God’s temple for six years, while Athaliah was ruling over the land…

23:1 In the seventh year Jehoiada made a bold move. He made a pact with the officers of the units of hundreds…

They came to Jerusalem, 3 and the whole assembly made a covenant with the king in the temple of God. Jehoiada said to them, “The king’s son will rule, just as the Lord promised David’s descendants….”

9 Jehoiada the priest gave to the officers of the units of hundreds King David’s spears and shields that were kept in God’s temple. 10 He placed the men at their posts, each holding his weapon in his hand. They lined up from the south side of the temple to the north side and stood near the altar and the temple, surrounding the king. 11 Jehoiada and his sons led out the king’s son and placed on him the crown and the royal insignia. They proclaimed him king and poured olive oil on his head. They declared, “Long live the king!”

O (Observation):  Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah was frustrated that her son, the king of Judah, died.  She was angry with God and wanted to destroy David’s lineage.  So, some folks hid Ahaziah’s son, Joash, so that he would not be killed by Athaliah.   

For 6 years, Joash was hidden and cared for, but then the priest, Jehoida, developed a plan to bring the king back into his rightful position.  He gave weapons to his allies and they anointed Joash in the temple.  

A (Application):  Sometimes, you just have no control over the situation.   You don’t know all the machinations of moving parts all around you and you just live oblivious to or powerless to the actions around you.  

The scriptures here are silent to Joash’s realization of what was going on.  He was hidden.  And then, 6 years later, he’s ushered in as king.  

Sometimes, God puts the people around you to make things happen.    

A part of the vision statement for the congregation I serve is: “to help each other discover the path God has chosen for us”.   God as hopes and dreams for each of us.  God sees each of us with purpose and calling.  

When Jesus tells the disciples to “be perfect” in Matthew 5:48, he’s talking about living your life in such a way that you are to be the YOU God called you to be!   

God gives us grace in the form of a calling and in the form of people around you.  We simply receive the grace and mercy.  We need but open our eyes to discern where God has been moving about us.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, open my eyes.  Help me to help others discover their paths.  Amen.