Wednesday, July 31, 2013

8/1/13- Leaving church over sexual immorality

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant,torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:9-10)

Thoughts: In Elijah's day the people of God broke their sole covenant with Yahweh and worshiped the God Baal (or Ugaritic Baal ze Bub), the fertility God. Part of Canaanite worship was to have sex with prostitutes and orgies on mountaintops in order for the rain to fall and the crops to grow.  Later prophets would describe Israel as breaking her marriage covenant with God in order to dabble in the sexual fertility worship of Baal.  Baal worship was similar to the worship of the goddess of sexual love, Aphrodite.
    Today our culture is worshiping the God of human love and sexuality.  Nine out of ten boys are exposed to pornography before 18 ( There are 24.6 million pornographic internet sites.  Every second $3,000 is spent on pornography.  40 Million Americans are regular visitors to porn sites. Living together without marriage has become acceptable to the point that over half the couples in the United States partner without being married.  1.6 million babies in America were born to unwed mothers in 2011. The trend has gone from 5% of births out of wedlock in 1950 to 40% (1.6 million) today. This is on top of 1.2 million abortions in 2011.  Monogamy and monotheism tend to go together- both illustrating a covenant relationship of love forsaking all others.
   Many have argued that they have left the church out of disgust that it is not keeping up with the times (by its protesting against adultery and homosexual behavior).  The church, they say, is too rigid, behind the times, and restrictive, even bigoted against adulterers or Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, or transgender practitioners.  Why and how did people leave Yahweh to worship Baal in Elijah's day so much so that Elijah was "the only one left."  Perhaps they saw Yahweh worship as outdated, restrictive, and legalistic. Sexual immorality has often been a reason people have left faith to live for what they can only see and feel.  
    Sexual immorality is not the unforgivable sin.  Jesus did not condemn the adulterous woman in John 4.  However, turning away from God is the unforgivable sin- the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.  It is extremely hard for those who have fallen into sexual immorality to come back to the faith, but it is not impossible.  Elijah's confrontation with Baal's prophets in 1 Kings 18 was a turning point and the people came back.  America too, is called to leave immorality behind and seek God. 

Prayer: Let not my sin, cloud my eyes to you, O Lord.  Let me give up physical and spiritual adultery and turn my whole heart to you, my Lord and my God.  

(The Cannanite Fertility gods Baal and Ashtoreth)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

7/31/13- How the Church Can Fail More Than Anyone Else

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. (2 Corinthians 13:5-7)

Thoughts: the Church is supposed to represent Christ to the world.  We are to be ambassadors of His love, hope, and grace.  But instead we fail miserably.  We go our own selfish way, get wrapped up in over-indulgence, greed, fear, worry, lack of faith and courage, and simple apathy to what is so very important.
We get caught up in formality, stuck in rut and rote, legalism and even breaking our own rules with our own sin. It thus appears to the world that what we believe has nothing to do with human spirituality, or the deep truths of life.
    The one weapon that Christ has given us- love- we keep in a box.
    So many leave the church because they do not feel the church loves them.  Maybe some of it is that they did not make themselves vulnerable to love the church.  To love we must seek to love.  Yet it is true the church does not love others as they should.  Human prejudice, human pride, human apathy and selfishness get in the way.  In heaven we will love purely.  Here we do not love as we are loved by God.
    So many leave because the church has not only not loved them but she has hurt them.  Neglect, abuse, or rudeness may scare others away.
    Twice different visitors came to church and complained to me how cold and unfriendly the church was.  I asked them to please come back and try the other side.  Both times the visitors came back reporting that the church was indeed friendly and both joined.  The church will fail because we are not in heaven yet- so our humanity reigns over our god-like qualities.  But if the church has failed you- do not give up in a huff.  Your salvation may depend upon your trying again and again.  Your ability to forgive the church may also reflect God's ability to forgive you.

Prayer: Forgive us, Lord as we forgive others.  We fail.  Help us to walk in your ways.

Monday, July 29, 2013

7/30/13- Why People Forsake God

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Thoughts: Why do people leave the church?  People have left the church continually- it is not a new phenomenon.  People have left the church- forsaking worship- for many different reasons.  Calvin, tried to understand why two people can hear the same gracious word and respond in two different ways.  He would say one was predestined and the other was not.  The focus for Calvin was not on our mind and our choice as much as on God the ruler of human hearts.
      But on another level, people leave supposedly of their own free will for various reasons.  Here are what I say would be the top three.
1) A lack of faith- In our day, this is the crisis.  We are focused more on what we see than what we do not.  We are focused on our own accomplishments, and have a hard time believing in the mysteries of life.  Often pride gets in the way of faith- we just can't humble ourselves before God. We think we know better than God's way, than God's person. We focus on what we see so much that we cannot believe in anything mysterious.
2) A lack of love- We are excited about human accomplishment- from money, work, sports, beauty, star-power, and less excited about God.  We love so many other things other than God, that we have little room for a God who calls us to love Himself above all others.
3) A lack of hope- Some are caught up in worry- feeling that they must handle things by themselves, knowing they cannot.  So they let worry take away their hope.  Many quit church because they have had sadness.  They despair over some sadness or sin and cannot come back. Guilt is powerful enough to keep someone away from church.  But the church is a hospital for sinners- that offers good news to erase guilt, give love (and meaning), and encourage faith.  Too many times the sick will not go to the doctor, and the spiritually sick would rather languish then go to the hospital of faith.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to find faith, hope, and love- instead of skepticism, worry, and apathy. 


Sunday, July 28, 2013

7/29/13- Falling Away from Church

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown...
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-21)

Thoughts: Jesus even talked of "falling away" from the church and kingdom of God.  Jesus listed many causes for those who fall away.
1) The Path seeds- They never took root; The evil one snatched them away.
2) The Rocky seeds- The roots were shallow; They only lasted a short time.
3) The Thorn Seeds- Other things choked them out; Worries and wealth killed their faith. 

4) The Good Soil Seeds- bore fruit.
     There are lots of reasons why people leave the church.  Some say the church has failed because it speaks so much about sexual immorality (like this is not a problem for leaving the church).  But divorce, adultery, and different kinds of sexual immorality are common reasons why people feel guilty and leave.  Hopefully, some can find a way back to the church.  Some say the solution is to say that sexual immorality is no longer immoral.  Some say if we make God easy to believe in- removing all the supernatural, the miracles, the hard- to- believe sayings, and the commandments we don't like- then maybe people will respond and come to church.  There is no doubt this may work for a little while.  But what kind of commitment will people who believe only because it is easy make?  More than that, if Jesus speaks of following Him as hard- involving denying self and taking up the cross- then why should we seek to make things easy?  But perhaps even more important would be to ask ourselves about our motives and hearts- for the heart can be deceitful above all things.  Part of being faithful to God is being faithful to the way God reveals Himself.  

Prayer: Help me to be faithful to you and not fall away.  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

7/28/13- Purity and Peace in Church

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2,3)

Will you devote yourself to the church’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers, promising to further its purity and peace? (fifth question for joining the church- in the Book of Common Worship). 

Thoughts: When we join the church, we join to not divide it or complain about it.  We seek to make it better- more united, more pure- better.  There is no perfect church.  Not even the church we are used to going to is perfect.  We do not design or create the church, but we are a part of the church- when we take part in it- and we shape it as we live in it.  So when we join the church we say we seek to make the church a better place.
     In our day of American consumerism, we may think we can simply choose a religion, design a religion, and ignore everyone else and the church.  But such thinking is an illusion.  We seek the peace of God for the Church- not the peace of death.  The peace of death is leave me alone kind of peace- the kind of R.I.P. found over tombstones.  But the peace of God is shalom- wholeness- contentment- knowing who you are and that you have purpose.  The purity is not simply purity of motive, but purity in terms of doing what is right according to God.  Such purity assumes there is a God who cares about how we live and love.   If God doesn't care or cannot care, then such purity is an illusion.  The God of scripture is a God who cares and asks us to care and live in holy (pure) ways. 

Prayer: Lord, help me to seek you through your Church.  Help me to seek your purity and your peace.  

(Celtic symbol of purity)

Friday, July 26, 2013

7/27/13- Devoting to the Fellowship

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2,3)

Will you devote yourself to the church’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers, promising to further its purity and peace? (fifth question for joining the church- in the Book of Common Worship). 

Thoughts: The promise of the covenant of joining the church here is to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles as outlined in scripture.  So they we are to devote ourselves- meaning we promise to make it our heart's priority.  The word "devote" is similar to the word "vow" or "vote" and it means to focus our will on something.  We are to give ourselves to the teaching of the church (not our own opinions or unchurch opinions).  We are to give ourselves to the fellowship- seeking to be WITH other believers.  We are to give ourselves to the breaking of bread- a sign of rubbing elbows and communion- not just communion but also simply having meals together.  We are to devote ourselves to prayer- giving ourselves to not just pray individually but as a group. 

Prayer:  So give me the will, time and life to give myself to you and your church, O Lord. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

7/26/13- A Covenant to Participate

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.  (Acts 2:42-46)

4) Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, share in its worship and ministry through your prayers and gifts, your study and service, and so fulfill your calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Thoughts: I once joined a gym but then did not go to exercise.  So it meant very little to me. If someone talked about gyms I could say, "I'm a member of a gym."  But it was in name only.  But when I rejoined later and exercised, it meant so much, and helped with my health and strength. When we join the Church it is not just so we can have our name down on some list, or please the memory of our parents, or get some insurance for life after death we are fooling ourselves.  Jesus says our faith is a matter of the heart- and exercising our faith strengthens our hearts.  Faithfulness- meaning regularity- and making worship a priority is important.  Getting ready for worship starts the night before when we go to sleep at a reasonable hour and are in good health.  The way we share in worship and ministry is through joining in the praying, the giving, growing in study and in witness.  As we take part in the church, we are His disciples.  

Prayer: Help me to exercise my faith by worship, prayer, giving, growing, and service, Lord.  Give me the strength I need to honor you.  

(Empty Gym)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

7/25/13- Promise of Unending Love

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35)

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
(John 14:23)

3) Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying His Word, and showing His love, to your life’s end?

Thoughts: To join the church means to follow on the disciple path- following in the steps of Jesus Christ.  It means that we forsake our own ideas to follow His ideas.  It means we submit our wills to His will.  To say this means in part that His will is discover-able   So we obey the Word of the Lord found in scripture.  We must listen to God speak to our hearts in scripture and seek to heed Him.  But more than just obedience we must share the love we experience, showing God's love to the world.  Our goal and our covenant is not to serve Christ for a moment, or a day or even a year or two but to our life's end.  As we obey and show Christ's love, we smooth the transition into heaven. We promise to love Him even beyond til death us do part.  We follow Christ- in obedience and love not just now- but we follow Him into heaven and afterwards in heaven. 

Prayer: Lord, let me love you and show your love.  Let me follow in your steps, listening to your voice speaking to me in your Word.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

7/24/13- Lord and Savior

God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. (Acts 5:31)

2) Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Lord and Savior?

Thoughts: God exalted Jesus as Lord that we would follow Him.  He has enabled Him to be Savior that we might be saved.  But a Lord is no Lord unless we acknowledge Him as Lord. To accept Jesus as Savior means we acknowledge His death on the cross is for us. The angel said when he told Mary to name the baby Jesus ("The Lord saves") that He would save His people from their sins."  Christ accepts us by His love, but we must also accept Him.  Christ is the Savior from our sins- and that is the beginning of our walk with Him.  Christ is Lord and that is the ongoing part of our journey.
    Part of the covenant and promises we make when we join the church is a covenant of trust and acceptance of what Christ has done for us.  A great gift has been offered to us.  Being a part of the Church means we join the ranks of those who acknowledge, give thanks for and accept the gift of salvation and the gift of following our leader and Lord.
    It is a turning away from the hopelessness of sin and turning toward the One who saves us from it.  It is a turning away from meaninglessness and going our selfish way.  It is a turning toward our Lord who shows us how to live.  It is the acceptance of our acceptance. It is the way of hope and love caused by faith.

Prayer: Lord, may I accept your sacrifice on my behalf- for my salvation- for I cannot save myself.  May I seek to follow you as my Lord- for you know better than me.

Monday, July 22, 2013

7/23/13- Turning Away In Order to Turn to God

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2)

1) Do you admit that you are a sinner in need of God’s mercy?  Do you renounce all evil and powers in the world that defy God’s righteousness and love, and do you renounce the ways of sin?

Thoughts: When people asked "what shall we do?" Peter's words of hope were words that also "added to their number."  In other words- the basic requirement for membership took three forms.
First there was belief.  Those who heard believed the message- and believed in God.
Second there was repentance.  They were not just sorry for their sins- but they were willing to submit to God's way and leave their own.  They humbled themselves and turned around.  They died to self and lived for God.
Third was baptism.  Baptism is the initiation ritual into the church.  It symbolizes that we are His and He is ours.  It means our sins are washed clean, and we are sealed as his own.  Once we are baptized it is indelible- we cannot be unbaptized.

The first question someone is asked (above) assumes that people believe and are already baptized.  But it is a confession of sin and a public repentance of sin.  The first question really is an admission that no one is worthy of joining the church.  It is not, as the world often assumes, that church people have to be so good- or reach a level of goodness in order to join the church.  It is admitting our sin, renouncing evil's power over us, and turning to God.  But it is also renouncing sin.  Joining the church and following Christ means to no longer follow the ways of sin.
Without repentance, there is no definition of what we are joining.  Repentance, in effect, means there are boundaries that we must not cross- standards that we must keep.  When we eliminate sin or repentance, we may feel better about ourselves, but the idea of holiness, righteousness, truth, and goodness flee out the window.  The church is not just a feel good club.  It is a believing fellowship united by a desire to not go every path, but a desire to follow Christ's path.  To walk on the narrow way, we must give up the other ways.  If all roads lead to God- there is no need to travel at all.  If holiness is everything- holiness is nothing.  Similarly, in a Christian marriage ceremony- the covenant of marriage involves the vow "forsaking all others."  In the parallel covenant of joining the church- we make the covenant of renouncing evil ways- forsaking all other paths but God's.

Prayer: Lord, give me the grace to want you above all else and to forsake all other gods and all other ways in order to serve and honor you.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

7/21/13- A Prayer for Protection and Unity

 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world,and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.  (John 17:11)

Thoughts: Jesus prayed for two things that Christians continue to struggle for- protection and unity.  Perhaps He knew we would struggle and wrestle for these two things that continue to tear at the edges of the Church, so He prayed for them.  It is especially important to note that Jesus publicly prayed these things in the hearing of his disciples as one of the last things he did on this earth.  Some say this was another part of his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed so hard drops of blood fell from him.  The unity and protection of his children-his disciples- his little brothers and sisters was important to Christ.
    The protection and unity of the Church finds power in the name of Jesus Christ- the name given Him by the Father.  Jesus means the Lord saves, while Christus is a title meaning the anointed one.  We do not need to be afraid to mention the name of Jesus- for it is our power and strength that protects us and unites us.
    If Jesus prayed for these things- we should also pray for and work for these things.  

Prayer: Lord, protect and unite your Church by the power of your name.  

Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane- Gethsemane was the place of olive presses- where different olives were pressed and united into one oil container. So we are pressed and made to be one.  It is harder for the church to be united in times of real peace and prosperity.  

7/22/13- One Body Many Members

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  (1 Corinthians 12:12-20)

Thoughts: Verses 12 and 20 say the same things- there are many parts but one body.  The appeal to the Corinthians who Paul earlier rebuked for dividing up within the church, is to be united- to agree to disagree.
When we join the church, we are joining one body, with many members.
When someone "joins" the church we say they are a part of the local "body of believers." We have different perspectives, different gifts, different talents, different ways of learning and looking at things- but we are united in faith and love for Christ.  So it is important to ask, when someone joins if they believe, and seek to live/follow Christ, and to promise to not divide the church.
The old joke is of the castaway who is finally saved by a ship passing by.  The crew asked the castaway about the two buildings on the island besides his house.  One he said was his former church, and the other is his new church that he went to when he got mad.
When we divide from each other we are dividing from ourselves, and hurting our faith.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to honor the unity of your body.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

7/20/13- Not Breaking the Bond of Peace

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord,one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:2-6) 

Thoughts: Verse 3 speaks of a "bond of peace" we have in the Church, and we are to make every effort to keep it.  In fact the whole chapter is about forgiving one another, limiting anger (not letting the sun set on it), in order to stay together.  So much of the Bible is about the things that would draw us together- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Spirit, love, grace, forgiveness.  Yet so much of history is about the church falling and splitting apart.  Neither Luther nor Calvin intended to split the church- but to reform it.  Splits often come because the church falls into sin- and some in the church want to keep themselves pure; or the powers that be in the church want to eliminate the opposition who are bothering them.  Neither way is best.
      Two passages are often used very loosely to rationalize splitting the church when it embraces a "sinful" doctrine.  One is "Come out from among them and be ye separate" (2 Corinthians 6;17) which speaks of unbelievers not being yoked to believers in marriage.  It could be used vaguely of the church of faith separating itself from the world of unfaith- but it is not a justification for schism in the church.  In our day of American consumerism that filters down to church shopping, we feel we can easily break covenants, promises, and affiliations in order to have the illusion that we are pure.  But reality is the church does not believe perfectly, or act perfectly- no church.  The idea that some are better than others is no justification for dividing the body of Christ that destroys the witness to the world of our patience, humility, and love.  Another passage says, "expel the immoral brother."  But this is an imperative to discipline within the church, not a command to split the church when it has immorality.  Too often in America, we break covenants, promises, and affiliations as easy as we break our marriage vows- neither is the ideal.  Too often in an effort to biblically righteous about morals or theology we forget what the Bible says about being one, united, and what the church is to be.  Truth is- that some need to be more biblical about morals, and others need to be more biblical about the unity of the church. In Matthew 13 Jesus tells two parable about not separating the holy from the unholy here on this earth.  One was the parable of the wheat and tares (weeds), that are to grow up together and should not be separated until the angels come.  The other was the parable of the net and fishes   Christ prayed that "they (the church) would be one- even as we (the godhead) are one.  

Prayer: Christ send the Spirit of unity to us that we may be one as you are one- Father-Son- and Holy Ghost.  Forgive our pettiness, our pride, our hurt, our sin. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

7/19/13- The Oneness of the Sacraments

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord,one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Thoughts: There is one baptism and in the last supper there is one body and one cup.  The importance of oneness is essential in the signs of God's covenant promises to us.  The covenant promises found in baptism are that we would be initiated into the body- becoming a part of the people in baptism. We have a shared cleansing and a shared name placed upon us in baptism.  The promise found in the supper is that we have the body and blood of Christ given for us that we might have a shared forgiveness.
    What makes the betrayal of Judas so awful is that he shared in the supper but rejected the gracious benefits of it.  When the baptized do not follow the one in whose name they are baptized, they too reject the promises of God.
     But when we mix faith with the sacraments- we become one family, one body.  So we become brothers and sisters when we have faith under the water of baptism, under the blood and sacrifice of Christ.  There is a oneness of the body of faith that is shown in the sacraments.
     Faith without the sacraments is enough to enter into heaven, but not enough to be who we are fully called to be- one with the people of God. 

Prayer: May I see how important is my taking part in the sacraments is to the oneness of your people Lord.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

7/18/13- The Practice of Being One

All the believers were united and shared everything...Every day they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. (Acts 2:44,46)

Thoughts: The Church does many things to practice its unity.  Gathering for worship, unified reading, sharing in giving, singing, prayer, passing of the peace.  This is the practical side of unity unspoken at a Christian worship service.
      Simply gathering together is an act of purposeful and important unity.  This is a unity that is missing in cyber church.  While there may be some excitement in seeing a large number of hits at once to a site, it is not the same as rubbing elbows, looking someone in the eye.  Cyber gathering is safer.  There is no danger of catching the flu, or hearing a baby cry, or smelling someone with bad breath.  But, there are some things well worth the gathering.  Where two or three are gathered together in my name- there am I in the midst of them- Jesus said.
     Unified reading is a uniting the voice of the church around one common reading of God's Holy Word.  It is not just united voices, but it is also listening to a common voice.  The Holy Spirit speaks when the people of the Spirit join together.
     The people of God give to the Lord together as a part of their worship of the One who provides all things.  Part of worship is giving to those in need- and that begins first with the people of God in that house.  Unity occurs when we lend each other a hand.
     Singing is not restricted to the people of God, but rarely do the people of God who worship Christ not sing at all.  Harmony is a melding of voices around a common theme.
     Prayer is the lifting up our hearts to God together.  It is not just talking to God, but lifting up hearts.  Again in Matthew 18 Jesus indicates that praying together is much more important than praying individually.  We are called to agree in prayer (Mt. 18:19) and then God will listen to our prayer.  We find God's will when we agree together.  The unity of believers is ever-so close to the will of God.  While we may pray over the phone, or say we will pray via email or text, it is not the same as praying together, united in will to God's will.
     Greeting one another is another thing underestimated today.   As part of the fellowship of the Church, the apostle Paul said, "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Romans 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26).  Greeting, touching, is an important part of the fellowship (koinonia) of the church.  Such a touching implies togetherness.
    Throughout worship there is a togetherness.  It is a lifting up our little lights (as in a candle light service) to the One light of the world.

Prayer: May my light shine for you, O Lord.  May my light join other lights to make one brighter light that glorifies you together.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

7/17/13- The Basis for Oneness

 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord,one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:2-6)

Thoughts: Some say the basis for human unity and oneness is that we have one world and we are all in this together.  But the one world idea or one life raft also can lead to reasons for fighting over scare resources (cf. "Life of Pi"). Some try to organize or politicize the world into oneness- (like the European Union or U.N.).  While such concepts are noble, they usually do not bring anything but the figurehead of unity.  Others would say we have common enemies that should unite us- namely sickness and death.  Others pick smaller enemies- like ignorance or barbarianism (as we define it).  But such ideas originate with cultural pride.  Ignorance, savagery, have often been labels used by the practitioners of Colonialism, Communism, Nazism, and others who elevate their cultural pride with no solid reason than their own circular reasoning and selfish pride that degrade other human beings as valueless.
Others are a bit closer saying that the basis for unity is human love.  But, as seen today, many have problems defining real love.  If love is only sexuality, love can turn into lust, selfishness, and harm to self or others (as in STDs or adultery's destruction of family and harm to children).  Love and peace sound great, but they are empty words without a deeper basis.
Christians have the deep secret to unity found in the love and person of the One who gives life.  But we are still sinners who have a problem with listening to directions from this Creator and not dividing into little factions who think they alone have the truth.  In heaven, the invisible church will be seen for what it truly should be on earth- people of every country, tribe, language and culture (Revelation 5:9; 14:6).  The potential for human unity is found in the religion that promotes loving neighbor, turning the other cheek, and sacrifice (even more than inner peace).  There is a tie that binds hearts in Christian love that transcends all nations.  In fact Christianity is the only religion, the only philosophy that has adherents in every country int he world.  Surely this means the Christian faith has proven its ability to draw people from around the world together around a common faith.  Faith can be a God-given basis for oneness.  

Prayer:  May we as believers be one as you are one.  

Other thought: "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony... I'd like to give the world a coke and keep it company...It's the real thing."  Common likes/loves can be a basis for harmony- but coke is not enough.  This idea does point to a bigger idea that if we could commonly love God- it would unite us.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

7/16/13- The Problem of Oneness for Humans

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lordsaid, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. (Genesis 11:1-8)

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontusand Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:4-12)

Thoughts: We are a broken people.  We are broken from each other, broken from ourselves, and broken from God.  We seek to build out of pride, but our artificial imitation of the real Creator falls short, and we are left to go our own way alone.
     When we try to build our own world without God the Creator, in the end it is impossible.  We are divided from each other, from God and even ourselves.  The broken families in the West (51% of all marriages in America) stand as witnesses to this.  But at When the Spirit of God comes (as at Pentecost)  the Healer- brings unification and peace between us and God, us and each other, and peace (shalom) within.
    We cannot artificially, politically, or organizationally manufacture or really replicate the unity that comes when the Holy Spirit is at work.  When the Holy Spirit brings unity- it is like anointing oil flowing down (Psalm 133), making the rough smooth and the disunited linked.  As oil on a beard straightens and smooths- making what was itchy and irritating comfortable- so the Holy Spirit straightens us out and makes our way smooth and easy.
     The real point is- we all want to seek the blessing of God.  We want to coexist.  We want to get along.  We want to have peace within and without.  We know that is the way things ought to be.  We do (and frankly should) all we can to get along and to make life be all it is intended to be.  But in the end, the real blessing of God comes not from within or by artificial cooperation, but by the Holy Spirit.  It is His blessing we should seek above all other blessings.  Real oneness comes from the One God who unites us around Himself.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, bring unity; bring wholeness; bring peace.