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Archive for September, 2014

Putting on the Mind of Christ

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5 (NRSV)

Is it even possible to put on the mind of Christ?  I mean, we certainly aren’t Christ, even though we sometimes try to reach that impossible goal.  The passages in Philippians 2:1-13 give us some guidance:  share love, be united, agree with each other, don’t be selfish, think of others, care about others.  Jesus emptied himself and came down from his place in the Trinity to be here on earth so that we might learn more about God and how God would have us live.

Think about it, if we all lived that way, the world would be less terrifying and more peaceful.  Families would work at getting along and resolving conflicts.  Church folks would demand their own way or try to push their own agendas but would work through things trusting God’s guidance.  Marriages and other relationships would be healthier because we think of the other person.

This passage may sound like we aren’t supposed to take care of ourselves and could even imply being humble so that we are like a rug someone could walk all over.  Yet, I don’t believe that is the intention of the passage.  In the middle is this beautiful hymn about Jesus who gave of himself, became human so that we could all have salvation, know forgiveness, and be in healthy relationship with God and each other.

That seems to me to be the goal of the Christian life.  Yet we live in a violent and self-centered world.  Maybe the Christian church needs to stand up and, instead of judging, live in the world so the ripple effect spreads and good can overcome evil.  We have the gifts to make that happen, and although we can’t necessarily do it on a larger scale, we can start in our own families, in our churches, and wherever we are in relationships with others.  LIVE COUNTERCULTURALLY!

It’s not easy, but then, Jesus didn’t find human life easy either, did he?  In fact, he died on a cross in a vicious and cruel death even though he had done nothing wrong except question the establishment.  Putting on the mind of Christ means having the strength to stand up to evil or wrong and to know that, in the end, God will prevail!  May it be so!

Competition and Grace

“Are you resentful because I am generous?” Matthew 20:15b

The vineyard owner from the parable in Matthew 20:1-16 paid all the workers the same pay even though they all started at different times of the day.  It’s not really a surprise that the workers who were hired first should think that they would be paid more than those who were hired last.  Yet, the owner chose to pay them all equally and with great generosity.

I read a story somewhere (sorry I don’t remember where) that told of some children who were in a race.  When one of the children fell down and started to cry, another child turned around to help him up and began running with him.  When the other children saw it happen, they all turned around, linked arms and ran across the finish line together.  There was competition, but there was also grace.  They were all winners!

In the kingdom of God, we are all winners in God’s eyes.  It doesn’t matter whether we live in the United States or any other country, it doesn’t matter if our skin is a different color from someone else’s, or whether we speak different languages or have different backgrounds and experiences.  What matters is that we live our our lives in service to God.

God will honor our work and our faithfulness.  It is our faith that opens the doors to the kingdom – both here on earth and in heaven.  God’s grace is big enough for all of us, so our social status or positions of power and authority or being the “worker bees” doesn’t matter to God.  God doesn’t care how much money we have or don’t have, it’s how we use it to glorify God that reflects our faith and what has a hold over us.

In our world and in our society, the emphasis is on power, prestige, wealth, having many possessions, and how “successful” we are.  I remember my dad saying that he often thought maybe he hadn’t been very successful until he stopped to think about the four children he and Mom raised.  That determined his earthly wealth and success because we all have grown up to follow Christ and have raised our children the same way.

The competitive part of our lives might keep us aware of how we can improve ourselves, but it is grace – the generosity of God’s grace that gives us the victory.  When I was in Guatemala last year, I was struck by the hard work of the people there to care for their families.  Many had very little to live on but they had each other and their faith.  As I stood outside the clinic where we were painting and repairing and preparing thing so they could open, a smile spoke loudly in spite of the fact that we didn’t really know each other’s language.

God connected us through a smile and a hello, as well as getting their picture taken (the children loved it).  In our time right now, it seems as if there is so much evil, viciousness, and hunger for power that it can be frightening, but it is important to remember that no matter what happens, God is with us, and God has our souls.  May we all become the example and live in ways that are needed to make this world a better place, one of grace, mercy, and peace.

Belonging to God

“Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God.”  (Romans 14:8b (NRSV)

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome clearly reflects dissension in the congregation.  Arguments arose about what rituals to follow, what foods to eat, how to worship, and attitudes of superiority or passing judgement on others.  I guess nothing has really changed in 2000 or more years!  We still struggle with arguments over change and trying new things.  We still have disagreements on what is the “correct” theology or worship style.  We still have people who want to have one kind of worship while others want something else that’s newer and more contemporary.

Paul wrote the Roman church to remind them that it isn’t about them!  It’s about Jesus Christ!  When began to put Jesus first, they would find the right answers and/or they even might find ways to honor the other person regardless of social standing, religious background, or preferred worship styles.  Regardless of who we are, we all are God’s child, and we are to treat each other with respect and honor.

I’m always amazed at how quickly congregations forget this!  And I don’t leave myself out of that comment, either!  We tend to think we know the “correct” way to do things, and we also feel that someone who doesn’t agree with us is “wrong.”  We have our own agendas, and we think that things will work the best OUR way!  That’s when we have conflict, hurt feelings, anger, and lack of listening.  Most of all, those circumstances are when we have moved farthest away from Jesus Christ, who IS the head of the church – not the pastor, not the lay leader, or anyone else – only Jesus, the Christ.

My mother had many favorite hymns, and one of them was “Living for Jesus.”  In the summer of 2013, our family sang it in church while I was visiting.  That has become a tradition – when I fly back to the Midwest, my siblings, nieces and nephews, Mom and Dad would become the choir in church for that Sunday (we are a VERY musical family – thanks to Mom).  That was the last time Mom was able to stand up with us to sing, and I think we all sensed it.  Her Alzheimer’s Disease may have robbed her of her memory, personality, awareness, and some of her dignity, but the music was always there.

Mom took that song seriously, and she did live for Jesus.  I seem to remember that she “checked in with Jesus” a lot before she did things or while she was going through a tough time.  Last summer (2014) our family sang again, only Mom sang from her “heavenly choir” spot.  We didn’t sing “Living for Jesus” again – we had sung it in February at her funeral.  But as I prepare to sing it with my congregations this coming Sunday in relation to the Romans 14:1-12 text for this week, I know Mom will be there, reminding me that I’m called to set and example, and that I have a job to keep reminding and teaching the congregations that we can believe Paul’s words:  “Whether we live or die, we belong to God.”  That gives me comfort, not only knowing that Mom believed it and is with Jesus now, but also that we ALL can believe it and live it in the here and now.

May it be so.

Reconciliation and Worship

“. . . where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”  Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)

This verse has always reminded me that worship is about community.  Of course, we can worship individually, and surely God in Christ is there with us, so to understand the community part of this, we need to take a look at the context of this passage.  The lectionary gives us Matthew 18:15-20 which contains specific words on reconciliation when there has been conflict in the church.  Obviously the community of faith for which Matthew wrote wasn’t immune to conflict; even the disciples of Jesus showed times of conflict and disagreement.

We are human beings with different backgrounds and ideas, and we can be stubborn when we think our way is the best (and maybe only) way.  There are also personality issues between some folks; we all know people who push our buttons and anger us!  Members of a congregation are no different!  What these verses from Matthew 18 help us to understand is that our priority is to talk directly to the other person to try to resolve it, and if that person won’t help to resolve the conflict, we are to find others who will help us work on a resolution.  If even that doesn’t work, we are to take it to the church, and that person is to be as a Gentile!  In other words, they are to be either shunned or excommunicated.  I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to believe that we would actually go through the process of excommunicating someone from our congregation (although I admit that there are some folks who need to leave for the health of a congregation).

If reconciliation is so important in the teaching of Jesus, shouldn’t we pay attention to it?  Verses 18 and 19 sound as if we have a lot of power “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosened in heaven.”  Thinking that we have that much power is missing the mark.  These passages are more about our supposed need to hang onto things.  They will be bound to us or bind us up if we don’t loose them.  Maybe forgiveness and reconciliation are inextricably tied to our ability to live faithfully in our Christian walk!

So, the idea of two or three being together with Jesus in their midst brings us to worship, to forgiveness, to reconciliation and setting a good example to the world about how to work through issues that come up.  Where better than the church to be a model for working through life’s issues?  Who better to show that there is a better way, a counter-cultural way, an alternate way of living than those who claim Christ as their Savior and walk in his ways? 

May we all find the faithful road, even though it is sometimes very hard to take!

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