the blessedness of unity and the kind of unity that is blessed

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

Psalm 133

God seems to put a priority on unity. In Jesus’s high priestly prayer of John 17, that is front and center in his petition for all believers, that God’s people would be one and be perfectly united, even as he and the Father are.

This begs the question just what kind of unity we’re talking about, the answer being self evident already, and especially so when we consider our Lord’s prayer in John 17, along with the context of Psalm 133. Unity is not merely for unity’s sake, as good as that may be. That can definitely be dangerous as well, in a world in which deception and following the crowd, or simply keeping in step with custom is either sacrosanct, or else expected, or at the very least what helps a person fit in and not stand out like a sore thumb.

There is a unity that God brings his people into through Christ, and which God blesses, and is indeed delighted in, and in which we should delight. But it’s not a unity of this world, let’s say some political unity, whether Democratic or Republican, or whatever it might be. Probably many of us are united in things like that, maybe not. But that’s not the unity referred to here. In fact many of the unions of this world are broken down, and shown to be suspect, I think now of such things as reactions to evil which may not be good, and may even end up evil themselves. We have to beware of the human tendency to unite in a way that ends up being in opposition to God, not in harmony with the unity of God, and what God is bringing about in and through Christ.

Only through the gospel, the good news in Jesus, can we enter into this blessed unity of God. This is a Jesus thing. But just because we have entered into it, doesn’t mean that it’s automatic, and we can coast from there. Ephesians 4 makes it clear that our oneness is evident and rooted in a number of ways: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. But we’re told in that exact same passage to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are one body already. We’re to live out what we already are in Christ. And scripture makes it clear that this is an important and even vital part of our witness to the world.

We are already one in Christ. We’re to live that out, through all the complexitites and different circumstances and perspectives we find ourselves in. We each have our part in this in working toward a harmonious whole, which is both a witness to the world of the truth of the gospel, but is also central to who we are and what God is making us to be in and through Jesus.

learning the lesson of continual basic trust in God

It is probably breathtaking just how much we take for granted even in matters which amount to life and death. We may even be thankful, but we might get into our cars day after day, month after month, year after year without so much as a thought of asking for God’s traveling mercies, though we might do that for trips. Or for God’s help at work, since we are skilled (yes, from him) and can take care of that ourselves.

But every once in a while God might send gentle if not uncomfortable reminders of our utter dependence on him for safety, help, and blessing. Of course the blessing of God results in much more than just getting the job done in front of us, but includes how we do it and why. But first things first.

We need to really commit everything to God, whatever it might be that we’re doing: the nuts and bolts of it all, and all that underlies that. I remember someone taking me home from work, since I needed a ride that day. They did what they always do before driving, they committed in prayer the trip to God, short as it was (a half hour at the most). My guess is that their father did that as well, so that they learned that from him. Or maybe they started it themselves, perhaps under someone else’s influence.

I remember at the time, while appreciating it, kind of seeing it as a bit much, maybe a little on the super spiritual side, though this person puts on no such airs at all. But I think there’s wisdom in that. It won’t necessarily save us from a bad thing occuring. But it is an acknowledgement of our utter and entire dependence on God. And a good practice of faith, that we might do well in the faithfulness of God, and see the difference needed in our lives in and through Christ.

when troubled

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.

James 5

Yet man is born to trouble
    as surely as sparks fly upward.

Job 5

Trouble is a part of life. We probably do well to gear ourselves for it. At the same time, we want to enjoy life, and gearing for trouble means we learn to be blessed in the midst of it. But with the blessing of God. Although there are especially difficult times when all sense of blessedness might seem to be gone.

Trouble they say can either embitter us, or make us better. But as James points out, and as we see in Job’s response to his great trouble, we should be inclined to call on God for help, and for God’s answer. And hopefully through it we will find God’s blessing not unlike Jacob did when he wrestled the angel of God, and was actually wrestling God himself (Genesis 32).

Little do we know the possible blessing of being in trouble. We want to avoid trouble like the plague, but instead, we need to be open and receptive to whatever God might be doing through it.

Above all, as James tells us, we need to dial down and simply pray. Refuse to take matters in our own hands. And wait on the counsel of God in answer to prayer, perhaps through others, through the word, or directly to us. Most likely in ways we can hardly trace, but with confidence that God will guide us and help us through all the troubles of this life ultimately to experience his grace to his glory in and through Jesus.

a Thanksgiving meditation

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3

Some days ought to be different. In a way we want every day to be the same, even as we want to be the same ourselves in and through Jesus, and God’s grace in him. But it’s good to have certain days set as days of special celebration or reflection. We see this in the feast days of Israel of old (called the Feast Days of God) in the First/Old Testament. And in days even here in America in which we either honor or celebrate what is important to the nation. And on the Christian calendar, there are periods of time, and special days, not meant to enslave anyone, but to help us. Thanksgiving Day is kind of a combination of both a religious and national day here in the United States. It is a day set apart to enjoy the blessings of God, and give thanks for those blessings.

The passage above (Colossians 3), insofar as it’s lived out among Christians today, is a good reminder of what we should be remembering and celebrating. As well as where our minds and tongues probably shouldn’t be, unless it’s in simple prayer to God.

Some of us may have had extra difficult lives, or may be going through a trial right now. But none of us can say that there isn’t much to  be thankful for, first to God, from whom all blessings flow, and through whom every good and perfect gift comes. As well as to others, thanking God for them, as well as thanking them for the good they do out of the love and grace that comes from God.

God is love, and in that love has poured out bountiful blessings on the earth, to be shared by all. Let us mark this day, and make it, by God’s grace, a day of giving thanks to him. And simply be with each other, especially practicing that giving of thanks for the little ones to see so that they can come to emulate that themselves.

And above all, may we see this day as a day to pause and reflect, as well as celebrate for ourselves, God’s goodness to us and to the world. In creation and in new creation, in and through Jesus.

seeing through the disappointments and hardships to the blessings

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:28-29

In our broken world in which if something can go wrong, chances are it might, we need to learn to look for and find the blessings. In the many little things, as well as all that doesn’t go wrong. And yes, somehow even in the wrongs themselves.

A key for us in this is somehow to believe that God is at work in some way perhaps unimaginable to us, that if we were told, we might not even be able to appreciate. We can appreciate the general point which we are told in the passage above: God is at work in everything in our lives, to make us like his Son, into his family likeness, as his daughters and sons, as well as sisters and brothers. And that surely doesn’t mean that all will be glum; in fact it surely includes something of the opposite which we could experience no where else, nor in any other way. We get to experience the joy of God: the joy of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, a communal, as it were, family kind of joy. As together we are shaped more and more into the full humanity which is in Jesus.

And so we look for that joy, and for the good, even in the midst of the difficulties, what might not be so good, even what might be evil. We choose to find the good hand of God at work for good in everything. And to look for the blessings, big and small. Certainly to be enjoyed by us, and shared with others in and through Jesus.

looking for God’s hand/moving in one’s life

Yesterday in our team devotions, the chaplain who regularly leads them asked us to write down on a space specified for that on the handout, three ways we have seen God move in our lives. One of the team members asked if we had to settle for three, that they had more and more that they could tell about all day. And when their turn came to share one of the ways (this person was nearly bursting at the seams) they confined themselves to a quite unusual miraculous way in which God used them, just one of the many in their lives.

I initially sat there, quite tired, well spent from the work week and insufficient sleep of the night before, and hardly knowing what I would or could share, even though in my head I knew better. But my heart didn’t let my head see well at all. So that I might have next to little or nothing to say except that we know God is at work in our lives for good in and through Jesus. But I found the realization begin to awaken in me of just how much I really am aware, but in terms that wouldn’t be considered miraculous, or a personal boon and blessing. Probably occuring through the witness of my teammate I just mentioned along with the rest. Of course in Jesus we’re blessed to be a blessing.

As I listened to each one recount, it seeemed like the end of the time was going to cut me off, since I was last in the way the order was done, indeed the one before me, the chaplain said, would end it. But after his interesting story and the chaplain’s response, he looked at me almost as an afterthought saying I should say something, but that it would have to be quick. I was ready.

I expressed how nearly every day I’m aware of God’s moving in my life, and in the face and perhaps one can say even through the difficult challenges we’re currently facing and have been up against for some time. And how Bill Crowder of Our Daily Bread Ministries where I work (and of which I am a part of, even if it’s on the factory end) gave a most encouraging as well as convicing message the day before in our weekly chapel time on Leah (Genesis 29, 49), and how God is with the broken, and blesses the broken, how really every one and every family is broken. How we are all in great need.

Of course we daily have to remind ourselves and each other of God’s hand in our lives. This time in team devotions was a good exercise in us doing that. There most certainly is no end to it as we can see from the pages of scripture itself, sometimes miraculous, yes, but most often (at least for me) in the seemingly ordinary and mundane nuts and bolts of life. We need to look for God’s hand with the sanctified imagination of a faith that is formed and thus informed by the faith, the good news in Jesus, seen in the pages of scripture, and every day in our lives in and through Jesus.

 

what does God bless, and what is the way of Jesus concerning fleeing refugees?

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Exodus 22:21

Yes, the United States is a nation of laws, but any pretense of being a Christian nation should be dismissed on the grounds of refusing to take in the refugees escaping from war torn ravaged countries such as Syria. The issue is compassion and not just for a safe haven, but an assimilation over time into a new country and place, immigration laws in place to expedite that.

If many in this nation believe in a God who blesses those who do good and do his will, and are thinking about the blessing of this nation, then we would do well to have policies and laws in place to show mercy to those who are here, even if illegal, and to come up with a just, merciful plan. When all a nation can do is think about itself, should such a nation expect to receive any of God’s blessing?

There are a number of other issues that many Christians in the tradition I’m in are concerned about and there’s no doubt that such issues need to be addressed. And there are plenty of differences among those who think about what this nation actually is and should be, which can make all the difference in what kind of laws should be in place. But there shouldn’t be any doubt that a nation which has a strong Christian element should be influenced by the gospel accounts of Jesus and the mercy and compassion he brings. One story of his that comes to mind is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who unlike the Jewish priest and Levi, helped the beaten, dying man on the road.

The church must take the lead in this, in fact that is the one place and entity in which we should expect no less than compassion for the refugees. This should go without saying, but we can all too easily be isolated and insulated from perceived possible dangers, or any thing for that matter, which takes us out of our comfort zone. But we’re called to deny ourselves, and be willing to lose our lives for Jesus and for the gospel. And the gospel of reconciliation is a welcoming gospel, inviting people to Jesus in the offering of salvation to everyone.

This shouldn’t be a political matter; it shouldn’t boil down to the politics of this world. Though in actuality it is about what is aptly called the politics of Jesus. It is rather a moral and spiritual matter. We do good to those in great need; we don’t just leave them for dead. That is costly, but might it not cost any nation much more which turns its back on such? Do we believe in a God who sees and blesses and judges?

But for us in Jesus, and for the church this should not be an issue at all. We do good to those in need, we support them in what ways we can, pray for them, and share the good news of God in Jesus. And we continue to love and help them with no strings attached. That is the way of Jesus, the way that we should take. Even as we pray not just for our nation, but for the rest of the world, and for God’s kingdom in Jesus to at last come with the needed judgment for justice and salvation.