One Lord, one body, one hope

Sojourners and other faith-based organizations say that Christianity has been co-opted by politics. I have long believed that the pursuit of political power has a corrupting influence on religion. Last year, a group of religious leaders wrote a declaration called: Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis. How should the Church respond in this struggle against the powers of this dark world?

An identity centered on Christ

Today, many believers seem to derive their identity from their political party and from nationalism; the Pew Research Center calls them God-and-country believers. Paul reminded the Ephesian believers that our true identity is centered on Christ. Jesus is the head of the body, and it is by his grace that we were saved. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10).

What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be born again? What does it mean to be evangelical? Our culture misuses these words so much, it is no wonder that Christianity is misunderstood and it is no wonder that religious hypocrisy is on the rise.

If you want to know what it means to be a Christian, read the gospel. Jesus said that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again, that is born of the Spirit (John 3:3-7). The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Jesus said that the second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus made it clear that he will judge us based on how we treat those in need (Matthew 25:31-46).

Spiritual battles

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote that the first believers were “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14).” Today, many believers have been led astray by the cunning and deceitfulness of those with wealth and political power who are willing to do whatever they can to keep it.

There is a spiritual battle going on today even if we cannot see it. I tend to think of the enemy as the people who practice the deceitful scheming. But Paul said that the battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil. It is a battle between truth and deception. As Jesus said, the devil is the father of all lies. Jesus came to testify to the truth and everyone on the side of truth listens to Jesus (John 18:37).

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 

Ephesians 6:13-14

If Christ’s followers keep our eyes on the head of the Church – Christ – we will be equipped to do the work he has called us to do and to be strong as we face these spiritual battles.

Unity in the body of Christ

Paul wanted the believers to remember that they were called to one purpose. 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 (Eph. 4:3-6).

When Jesus prayed for future believers, he prayed that we would be one just as the Father and Son are one.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus, John 17:20-23

Unity of faith is not blind, tribal unity. We must guard our hearts and minds against deception. We should not be partners with those who are immoral, greedy and dishonest. No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them (Eph. 5:5-7).

I struggled with the concept of unity in the body of Christ after the 2016 election. I looked at the people in the pews around me and wondered, how can so many of you not see what I see? But when I walk through the doors of my church, I know that I will hear the word of God preached. I know that God’s name will be praised. We pray to one God. God is working in in ways that I cannot see.

A couple of weeks ago, my pastor told us about a dream he has had more than a dozed times since he became the pastor of our church. In the recurring dream, he sees a wood-framed church somewhere on the coast. Huge waves rise up and tear down the church. After the waves came and destroyed the physical walls of the church, my pastor saw the people, hands joined together, standing on a rock. I loved hearing about this dream because it reminds me that there is a body of believers who will stand strong in the spiritual battles of our time.

It is hard to see people of faith being tossed about by the waves, aligning themselves with those who deceive with empty words. The right response is to be humble, gentle and patient. The right response is to speak the truth in love. The right response is to stand strong in the Lord, our Rock and Redeemer. The right response is to pray for God’s people. The right response is to keep on imitating Christ so that the world will know that God sent him and that God loves them.

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Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Prison walls started falling

On Tuesday, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone in preparation for giving up social media for Lent. Now my phone is just a phone and not a time-wasting distraction. This morning as I drove to the gym, I listened to a beautiful song that not only expresses how I feel about the “sacrifice” I’m making, it reminds me of the real reason for the season of Lent.

Red Letters is a song written by David Crowder and Ed Cash about the life-changing impact of the red letter words of Jesus.

Then I read the red letters
And the ground began to shake
The prison walls started falling
And I became a free man that day

Red Letters – David Crowder Band

The phrase, prison walls started falling describes how I feel about being freed from the addictive hold of social media. Over time, I have become a slave to Facebook, depending on it to keep myself entertained, looking to it for social affirmation, and ridiculously fearing that I will miss out on something important if I don’t read my news feed everyday. It’s only been a couple of days since I gave it up, but the prison walls are already falling.

Red Letters also reminded me of the real sacrifice that Jesus made.

For God so loved the whole wide world
Sent His only Son to die for me
Arms spread wide for the whole wide world
His arms spread wide where mine should be
Jesus changed my destiny

Thank You, God, for red letters
When the ground began to shake
The grace of God started falling
And I became a free man that day
The prison walls started falling
And I am a free man today

Red Letters – David Crowder Band

Thank you, God, for red letters. Thank you, God, for Jesus!

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Photo by Denis Oliveira on Unsplash

Giving up social media for Lent

This year, my pastor encouraged us to give up social media for Lent. As a Presbyterian, I have never been asked to give up anything for Lent. I have decided to take my pastor’s advice because I am addicted to Facebook and I know that I waste a lot of time on it.

I did not tell anyone that I’m going to stay off of Facebook for Lent. Will anyone even notice that I’m not posting anything?

It will be interesting to see how my life changes in the next 40 days. Will I miss out on anything important if I don’t use social media everyday? How will I use the time that I would have wasted scrolling down my news feed? Will I have a more positive outlook on life?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Breaking down the wall of hostility

Before church on Sunday, my pastor placed a long piece of blue tape down the middle of the sanctuary. When he began his sermon on Ephesians 2:11-22, he pointed out the tape in case we hadn’t noticed it. Those of us on one side of the tape were to imagine that we were God’s chosen people of Israel; the others half were Gentiles, excluded from the Jewish community. The blue tape represented the wall of hostility that once separated Jews and Gentiles.

The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus that as Gentiles, they were excluded from the covenants of the promise, without hope and godless. Jesus reconciled Jews and Gentiles. Because of Jesus, Gentiles are not considered foreigners or strangers to God’s promises. Now all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, may come to God the Father with the Holy Spirit’s help because of what Christ has done for us. We are not lost. We are not without hope.

God made a new covenant with the people of Israel; Jesus made the old one obsolete. Jesus annulled the old system of Jewish laws. Jesus broke down the wall of contempt.

Paul wrote that Christ’s purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two. He made peace between us.

My pastor said that many Christians still think in terms of us versus them, black versus white, liberal versus conservative, Christian versus Muslim. This is not the way of Jesus. This is not the model of the kingdom of God.

Given how divided the United States is and how divided the Church is, I was pleasantly surprised that my pastor specifically mentioned a few of the walls of hostility that exist today, though much more could be said. I was very happy that he said this is not the way of Jesus. God-and-Country Believers need to hear this. Too many Christians forget that people of all nations are children of God. Too many Christians forget that we are all temporary residents of God’s world.

How incredibly timely was this sermon, coming in the midst of a huge, costly debate about building a wall to keep people south of the border from entering the United States. Today the president demands that we spend billions of dollars to build a physical wall to protect Americans from murderers and rapists. But the truth is, he is building a wall of hostility to shut out the brown people he has always despised. This is not the way of Jesus. This is not the model of the kingdom of God.

No matter what happens in the coming days, I take heart in knowing that my brothers and sisters south of the border are loved and welcomed by God. God does not see them as foreigners or illegal aliens. Jesus will break down the walls of hostility and one day a great multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people and language will stand before the Lamb of God (Revelations 7:9-10).

The Age of Acceptance

When I was 51, I wrote that I was Determined to Age Gracefully. To me, aging gracefully means having an inner beauty that shines through the wrinkles. While aging gracefully is a noble goal, getting old is no fun. If you kick and scream like a toddler as Father Time carries you off into old age, there is nothing graceful about it. And there is nothing fun about the aches and pains and physical degeneration that come with aging. It took me a few years to come to terms with losing my youth. Thankfully, I can now say, with no shame: I am old.

Accepting Reality

The process of coming to grips with aging is much like the stages of grieving the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Many people deny that they are getting old by lying about their age or pretending to be younger than they are. We bargain to put off aging by buying anti-aging, age-defying products or having cosmetic procedures to cover up the effects of aging.

I never saw the point in lying about my age because if you lie about your age, you have to lie about other facts of your life, like how long you’ve been out of school or how long you’ve been married. In my opinion, pretending to be younger than you are just makes you look silly. Yet I do try to counteract the effects of aging by using anti-aging creams and by taking hormone replacement therapy. I work out harder than I did when I was young to offset my decreasing metabolism.

There is a lot of cultural pressure to deny and defy aging. I often see articles targeted to people my age about hair mistakes that make you look older, makeup mistakes that make you look older, fashion mistakes that make you look older. The underlying message is that there is something wrong with being old or looking old.

Aging is a fact of life. Looking your age is not.  – Howard Mo 

And here’s a quote from SilcSkin, a company that sells anti-aging products:

When you are happy with what you see in the mirror, your self-esteem is directly affected and when you feel great and look great, you are unstoppable.

SilcSkin on Twitter

Isn’t it better to feel good about yourself and to feel unstoppable, regardless of how you look? I think so. Because no matter what you do, if you live long enough, you will eventually look old.

It’s true that your physiological age may be less than your chronological age. Research shows that exercise makes your DNA younger by lengthening the telomeres that shorten as we age. I hope that my biological age is younger than my chronological age because I want to be healthy at any age. But even if it is, I’m still relatively old.

A meme I saw on Facebook said it well: the day you realize that your co-workers are young enough to be your kids is the day you are officially old. It is hard to deny that you are old when you see how old you are relative to other people. I am old enough to be the mother of a couple of my coworkers. My boss is more than a dozen years younger than me. And here’s a link to a fun graphic: at my age, 70% of people are younger than me.

It helps to accept aging if you can laugh at yourself. The first time I experienced the shock of seeing my aging neck skin in the side mirror of the car, I felt bad about my neck, just like Nora Ephron. She wrote,”our faces are lies and our necks are the truth.” If redwood trees had necks, you wouldn’t have to cut them open to see how old they are.

I am now able to laugh at my aging self. My husband tells me I look like an old lady when I bend at my knees to pick something up. You didn’t do that when you were young! I just laugh and say, I am an old lady! I don’t care if I look old; I just want to protect my back.

I have a great-niece who is nine years old. She has always struggled to understand how we are related (her grandma is my older sister). When I visited before Christmas, she said, “wait, are you my great grandma?”

Accepting aging is accepting reality. There is a time and a season for everything. I’ve had my time to be young. Now it’s my time to be old.

Becoming a work of art

Poet Stanlislaw Jerzy Lec wrote, “Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.” I know that not all old people are a work of art. The challenges of life make some people bitter, resentful, and prone to complaining about everything. When they age, they become crotchety and curmudgeonly.

Fortunately, the challenges of life can shape you into a wise, compassionate, and beautiful soul. People who are open to the lessons of life can become a work of art. Age provides perspective on the purpose of life and clarifies what is really important.

The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of life is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.

William Arthur Ward

I believe that the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit never fades. As I continue to age, I want my beauty to come not from the outside but from the disposition of my heart.

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Painting of Chronos (Father Time) by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli – pl.pinterest.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54277715