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 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 (Ephesians 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.

****

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Ideas for going deeper in your faith

The pastor of my church preached a sermon series on Living Deep and then gave us a list of 14 practical steps to help us go deeper in our faith. I took the liberty of rephrasing a few of them. The most useful piece of advice for me is to look beyond what I can see to the deeper reality of what God is doing behind the scenes.

  1. Trust in God’s loving plans.
  2. Trust in God’s loving protection.
  3. Depend on the Holy Spirit.
  4. Look beyond what you can see to the deeper reality of God’s work.
  5. See yourself through God’s loving eyes. (Examine yourself accurately  based on God’s truth.)
  6. Come out of hiding and confess your brokenness.
  7. Simplify your life and make time with God a priority.
  8. Dive deep and immerse yourself in Scripture.
  9. Remember who you once were and embrace your new identity. (Learn from your history and get wiser.)
  10. Focus on who you are (and can become) rather than on what you should do.
  11. Replace unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones.
  12. Choose the right path each day. (Choose a new direction and start on it again each day.)
  13. Cultivate thankfulness, generosity, and kindness.
  14. Become an everyday vessel for God to use.

And here’s one of my own to grow on:

  • Seek God’s truth and wisdom.

Remember who you once were and embrace your new identity

At the end of a sermon series called “Living Deep,” my pastor handed out a list of practical steps to help us go deeper in our faith. He called the ninth step, “learn from your history and get wiser.” When I read this phrase, I thought he meant, learn from your mistakes. But after reading the Bible verses he shared, I think he was saying: “remember who you once were and embrace your new identity.”

One of the verses on the reading list was Deuteronomy 7:6, which says “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”

Although the Old Testament story of God’s chosen people of Israel is not my history, I can relate to it and learn from it. It is a story of rebellion and disobedience, of second chances and God’s unfailing love. In Psalm 105, David reminded the descendants of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that God would forever remember the covenant he made. The prophet Jeremiah said that the Lord would make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.

After reading about God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, I read the Parable of the Wedding Banquet in the New Testament. The last verse, Matthew 22:14, struck me as significant because it says: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The “All about Jesus” website explains what the parable means. Jesus was alluding to the history of the people of Israel. The invited guests who refused to come to the wedding banquet are the descendants of Abraham who turned away from God to worship other gods. God sent deliverers to turn the hearts of his chosen people back to him. Even though his people rejected him, God kept trying to get them back. He warned them. He disciplined them. They were stiff-necked, refusing to repent. God sent messengers or prophets to warn his chosen people that they would be punished. In response, the Israelites killed God’s messengers.

Even so, God – the king who prepared the wedding feast – did not give up on mankind. We are his beloved creation. He made us and he loves us. See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1) He loves us so much, he continues to invite the world to his banquet: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)

Jesus fulfilled the promise of a new covenant and made the old one obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)

Those of us who have accepted the invitation to the wedding feast have a new identity in Christ.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,  so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

– 1 Corinthians 26-31

I remember who I was before Jesus – a shy, young girl. I wasn’t special. I certainly wasn’t of noble birth. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. Christ Jesus became my wisdom from God. God values the meek and the lowly. As a young woman, I wandered away from the God who had always been with me. Then about twenty years ago, something bad happened that reminded me how good God is. I remembered who I am in Christ. In him I find my worth, in him I find my identity.

Reading List

Psalm 105
Deuteronomy 7:6
Job 14:5
Isaiah 46:3-4
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 
2 Corinthians 5:17
Colossians 1:16
1 John 3:1; 4:9

You Say (Lauren Daigle)

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am because I need to knowYou say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity, o-ooh

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
Oh, I believe

Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at Your feet
You have every failure God, and You’ll have every victory, o-ooh

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

Oh I believe
Yes I believe
What You say of me
Oh I believe

Look Beyond What You Can See

My church recently studied the First Epistle of John in a sermon series on “Living Deep.” At the end of the series, my pastor handed out a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith. Step four on his list is “Pray and look beyond what you can see to the deeper realities of God’s work.”

Look beyond what you can see

I have presbyopia. My old eyes need help seeing things that are far away. It is much easier for me to focus on close objects. My mind’s eye also has trouble imagining the future. When my mind is not occupied with work or ordinary daily activities, I tend to worry about the crisis or scandal of the moment. I get discouraged because it feels like evil is winning.

I am limited by what my eyes can see and by what my mind can conceive. How can I look beyond the chaos I see to the deeper reality of God’s work? My pastor said, pray and look beyond. Pray for insight. Pray for wisdom. Pray for understanding. Pray for hope.

According to 1 Corinthians 2, God’s wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit reveals deeper spiritual realities to those who love him. The Spirit explains spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. Not everyone can accept these words. Not everyone can understand these words. But the person who has the Spirit understands spiritual truths because he has been shown the mind of Christ.

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

The deeper reality of God’s work

The prophet Jeremiah wrote that the Lord has plans for us – plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future. But even though God promises to make all things work out for the good of those who love him, he doesn’t promise that there will be no trials and tribulations along the way. Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance builds character, and character produces hope.

Now I see things imperfectly. Someday I will see everything with perfect clarity.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:11-13

Mahatma Ghandi had the right perspective: “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always.”

Ghandi looked beyond what he could see to the invincibility of truth and love. This is the deeper reality of God’s work. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

When I despair, Lord help me to remember that love never fails. Love always prevails.  Always.

Reading List:
Jeremiah 29:11
John 8:32; 10:10
Romans 5:1-21; 9:16
1 Corinthians 3:19
2 Corinthians 5:15
Ephesians 2:8-10; 4:24
Philippians 4:13
1 John 3:19-24

Trust in God’s Loving Plans

My church studied the First Epistle of John in a sermon series on “Living Deep.” My pastor handed out a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith walk. For each step, he listed several scriptures for further study. Step one is Trust in God’s Loving Plans.

Trust in God’s Loving Plans

After the election, my pastor said he thought that people (like me) who were worried about the election of Donald Trump lacked trust in God. The truth is, I don’t trust dishonest, self-centered people. I do trust in the One who knows every corner of  my heart. Why do I trust in God? What does it mean to say that God is in control? Does God really have a plan? Is God sovereign over man’s free will?

Why do I trust in God?
1. I know him and he knows me.

I know my Father, the One who is from the beginning. I trust in him because I know that he is good. God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5). God is love. He is merciful and forgiving. He is just. He is honest. He is faithful. He will never leave me nor forsake me. Because God is good, I can trust him to do what is good.

God knows my heart. He knows my every thought, the good and the bad. I can’t hide from him because there is nothing about me that he does not already know. When I call out to him, he hears me. Even when I sin, he still loves me more than I can fathom. What love the Father has lavished, that I should be called a child of God!

Psalm 139:1-4 

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
2. He leads me on the right path.

I trust him because he shows me how to live right. The Lord is my shepherd. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. I hear his voice and I follow him. He is my teacher. He teaches me what it means to love others as I love myself. He teaches me to be meek. He teaches me to be humble. He teaches me to be merciful. He teaches me about anger and forgiveness. He shows me how to care for the “least of these.”

He steers me away from the wrong path. He warns me to watch out for false teachers. He tells me to be on guard against wolves in sheep’s clothing. Enter through the narrow gate. The road that leads to life is narrow and few find it.

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. – Matthew 7:16-18

3. He restores me.

I trust him because he changes me for the better. He restores my soul. He comforts me and quiets my anxious thoughts. He gives me hope. Even when I face trials, I am grateful because I know that it is for my own good. He searches me, he tests me, he reveals my sins. When my faith is tested, I persevere. When I face challenges, my faith grows. I am strong because his word lives in me.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Is God in control?

The first scripture on my reading list was Job 42:10-12, the epilogue to the story of Job that says he lived happily ever after. But you can’t understand Job’s restoration without knowing what he lost. He was a wealthy, righteous man with a healthy fear of God. Yet God allowed Satan to put him through some really awful tests of his faith. He lost everything he had: his children, his servants, his home, the respect of his community. His body was afflicted with painful sores.

Job’s friends were sure that Job had done something to deserve God’s punishment. They lectured him. Job knew that he hadn’t done anything wrong. He cried out to God, but God did not answer. He felt like God had turned on him ruthlessly. Oh, that I had someone to hear me! What have I done to deserve this? So he asked his accuser to answer.

God responded by saying “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” He asked Job, where were you when I created the earth? Do you know the laws of the heavens? God made the case that he has dominion over all we see, that he is the supreme, intelligent mind behind creation. Who are we to question his plans?

Job was humbled. He despised himself for questioning God. He realized that he spoke of things he did not understand.

I believe that God is sovereign, the supreme power of this world. He was here from the beginning. He sees and knows everything, including the future. God is working behind the scenes in ways that we can’t see, in ways that we can’t comprehend.

What are God’s loving plans?

The reading list my pastor gave us did not directly address God’s plans. God revealed many of his plans in scripture – his plans for creation, his plans for individual people and for nations. God’s specific plans for most of us remain a mystery so we are left to speculate about what they might be.

Here’s what I do know: God’s loving plan for mankind is summed up in John 3:16 –  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. He has a grand, loving plan for redeeming and restoring this broken world.

God promises that everything will work out for the good of those who love him. There was a time when I got hung up on what God’s plan was for my life. What was my purpose? Was I missing out on a calling? But now I believe that as long as I follow him and seek him, his plans for me will fall into place.

God’s sovereignty or man’s free will?

This issue of free will was not addressed in the scriptures my pastor provided on trusting God’s plans but it has been weighing on my mind. In these troubled times, some evangelicals use “trust in God” as a euphemism for “don’t resist” their chosen, worldly leader. They cite Romans 13 as proof that Christians should submit to all civil authorities. But if God is sovereign over us, we should ask, who are the higher powers of Romans 13? Why would God demand that I submit myself to the authority of a wicked man whose ways and plans are contrary to his?

When I wrote about how upset I am about this administration, my sister pointed out that God uses imperfect people. This is true. She quoted the prophet Daniel who said (Daniel 2:21), “He changes times and seasons; he set up kings and deposes them.” In other words, God set up King Trump so trust that his presidency is God’s will?

I studied the book of Daniel myself and even memorized the verse about God setting up kings. But I have a real problem with selectively using scriptures like this to justify the choices that people make. If I believed that Daniel’s prophecy applied to all leaders, I would have to believe that God set up Hitler and every evil leader who ever lived. I would then conclude that God is not good because a good God would not choose a leader that he knows is going to commit atrocities. God does not need to use wicked people to carry out his plan. No, not every leader is ordained of God.

Is God like a puppeteer pulling all the strings or do our choices matter? Are we blaming God for bad outcomes that we brought about on our own? From the beginning, we have had the free will to do things that do not fulfill God’s intentions. Human beings are selfish and greedy and we tend to pursue our own self-interests. We have plans that are not consistent with God’s. Woe to those who carry out plans that are not his.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart , but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21

“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin.” – Isaiah 30:1

I trust that God intends what is good: feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed, caring for immigrants and refugees, putting an end to war and strife. These are loving plans. I trust that in time God’s intentions will come to fruition despite the circumstances that human beings create when we exercise free will.

I trust in God’s loving plans. My spiritual challenge is not a lack of trust in God’s loving plans but a lack of patience. I am impatient for God to fix the wrongs. My challenge is not a lack of trust but a lack of understanding of how this all fits into God’s grand plan to redeem mankind. It’s hard for me to understand why anyone has to suffer and why evil people seem to get away with doing wrong. So I must take heart and wait for the Lord.

Reading List:

Job 42:10-12
Psalm 23: 1-6
Psalm 139:23-24
John 10:27-29
James 1:3-4
2 Corinthians 4:8-9
1 John 2:12-24, 3:19, 5:13-14