one of the toxins in the air we breathe

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:27

One of the sacred tenants of our identity as Americans, inherited from tradition, and where we all usually more than less live is the idea that we are autonomous, that we live as separate individuals, each an entity to themselves. At best this is a failure to understand reality. At worst it ends up amounting to pure idolatry. People think that as long as they have the Bible, the church, can pray, then they can make it on their own. A distorted understanding of reality. Or that it’s up to us. God might be present, but we sink or swim ourselves. Along with that the false idea that everyone has to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Now I’m getting into the “political” though actually following Christ is not just some personal and not at all a private affair but ends up being political through and through in that others are linked, and in a sense everything else.

But to the main point: We don’t exist as human beings, relational in our core apart from other human beings. God’s will in Christ is meant to bring the entire world together as one body in Christ. Yes, we’re individuals, but we’re individuals in the one body, as members and metaphorically as parts of that body. The pervasive idea in our part of the world that we’re not in this together, but that everyone has to take care of themselves fails to understand God’s intention for humanity in creation, to be realized in the new creation in the rule of God in Christ. And present today in church, although not “church” as it’s often practiced, or oftentimes not much in that way. We end up being responsible not only for ourselves, but for each other, others being responsible to help us.

None of us are autonomous. We all have history and genetics which go with that, experiences and dispositions inherited, and we all are connected, even if such connection in our case is thoroughly broken in the lie in which we live.

We need to take a stand against this in no uncertain terms. First in our own lives before we can hope for societal change. Both at the same time, but with priority on ourselves. I breathe and have imbibed this falsity myself. But I am not my real self apart from others. That includes everyone, but especially those who like me are seeking to be followers of Christ, and are thus in Christ, in that one body, the body of Christ, metaphorically speaking, of course Christ the head, the Spirit from God in all of this. We’re all in this together, each and every single one of us. A reality not meant only for us, but for everyone. Someday to be fully realized. In and through Jesus.

(Many of my thoughts, and probably the main point picked up from a particular podcast- not sure which one right now- and from reading, as more or less is always the case.)

above all: love

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

Scripture, indeed Jesus tells us that there’s a good number of things we need to do, and not do. But both Scripture and Jesus in Scripture also tells us that love is to be paramount in it all. Love, love, and love some more.

This doesn’t mean we won’t have to take hard stands, and certainly doesn’t mean we’re called to make everyone happy. Love will do the difficult things, while hopefully being a kind of cushion for those who will be offended, if only they’re open to the truth inspired by such love.

Peter tells us to do this within the fellowship of believers, just as Jesus told his disciples to love one another, even as he had loved them, and that by such love the world would know that they are Jesus’s followers. We may not be very good at it. I don’t consider myself good at it. But we’re called to do it, just the same. We keep doing it, be it imperfect as it will be.

We’re to maintain such love as a constant. And that means we’ll have to look over quite a few things. Which of course includes people looking over things in ourselves as well. We should want to be held accountable, but it’s within a fellowship in which love is the measure, indeed the air we breathe. So we’ll be willing to look past many things we don’t like, and will pray about anything we might see as possibly more serious.

Love, love and more love. A love that never ends. That is what characterizes Christ, and what is to characterize the body of Christ, the church in this life. A love for all, and a family love for each other. In and through Jesus.

settling down into one’s place

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

1 Corinthians 12:7

In Christ’s body on earth each member has a vital part. We in Christ after all are each and every one a part of the one body of whom Christ is the head. Although this is metaphorical, by the Spirit it’s every bit as real as the fact that we take by faith, that the human (who is also fully divine), the resurrected, ascended Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father, the place of ultimate authority and power.

Because of all of this, we can be sure that in the way of Christ, but only in the way of Christ, God’s work will be done in this world, as each of us settles down into our own place, fulfilling the calling we have from God through Christ by the Spirit.

This is in terms of the one body in Christ both for its own edification and for its working as a blessing in the world. We each have our part. It may seem too simple, and we might wish we had another part. But it’s crucial even for our own good as well as for the good of all to simply find our part, our place, and settle into that. It will be every bit as touched by God through Christ by the Spirit as anyone else’s gift.

As we continue on in this time and place. In and through Jesus.

making disciples

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

It is true that many hold onto a faith which does involve working at change of life, but seems mostly about the hope of eternal life, sins forgiven, and an emphasis on how undeserving we are. Of course, we’re unworthy in and of ourselves, but there are passages that indicate that somehow God’s grace is at work to make us worthy, to help us live lives worthy of the calling we’ve received.

Why it is that so many are vibrant in an evangelical faith, maybe even a gospel faith, but back to more of the common evangelical faith of today. Evangelical is from the Greek word from the New Testament meaning gospel. But in present evangelical understanding there’s a marked emphasis on assurance of eternal life. Yesterday in a sermon at First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, Ohio, Lynn Miller said this:

Nothing is more disturbing to the secular culture around us than the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m convinced that the evidence of your salvation in Christ is not your belief that you will go to heaven when you die, but the evidence that you are living according to his teachings while you are still alive. And living according to the teachings of Jesus is disturbing. Jesus says he loves the stranger, the widow and the orphan. In this self-centered culture that surrounds us, that is disturbing.

The problem is that the church is not really fully committed if committed at all to the work of making disciples. A disciple is a follower of Christ, committed to following him come what may. Today that is done through faith and baptism through which there is a commitment together as church to hold each other accountable as all together seek to follow Christ in all of life.

Sadly, even in many of the best of churches, there’s mostly an emphasis on the blessed assurance that is ours in Christ which is good, along with practical application of Scripture to help us in our lives. And some are much better in holding people to what Scripture is saying, the challenge there. But it needs to be made clear, no bones about it that if we’re not in to follow Christ, and such following has to be total, complete, than we’re not in the faith taught by Christ and found in the New Testament. Period.

This will be messy and not easy, and we can well understand that if we look at our own lives. But there has to be both the individual committed to Christ within the church, and the church committed to the individual. All of us committed to each other since we are after all a part of each other as one body in Christ. We seek to follow Christ in everything and to do so together. I need other’s help and in God’s economy and will, they need mine as well. In love and prayers, in listening and helping. Through everything. Finding God’s good will for us which includes mission to the world since by our lives we’re light in the Lord. In the way of Jesus, in and through him.

together we are one

Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

Psalm 33:20-22

We normally think of our faith in an individualistic way, and that’s both good and okay, but in our context carries with it plenty of not so good, as well. Even in church, we often see it as strictly an individual endeavor in which we’re trying to get the word from God which we need. Again good in itself, but we’re missing something.

I love how the above passage makes the point that the congregation has one soul and one heart, and how they’re all in it together.

Where two or three are gathered in his name, Christ is present. And not only to care for each individual, but to bind us all together. To be “in Christ” amounts to being a part of Christ’s body, the church. This is not something we do, but something we are through the Spirit. So whatever closeness we experience to Christ should mean a closeness to each other.

But alas, we’re so much in the frame of the individual, that this is all but lost, usually completely so. We touch base with other individuals if at all in our church gatherings. When really “in Christ” by the Spirit we’re on spirit, one heart, one soul in Christ. That includes all of our experience, from joy to sorrow, as well as the struggles we go through.

In Christ we’re all in this together. Impossible to leave anyone behind in this dynamic, since we’re all one body in him. Something which we need to honor in our gatherings as church. In and through Jesus.

the priority of the unity of the body of Christ, the church

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours

1 Corinthians 1:2

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6

A priority which ought to mark every church is the desire for unity among all of God’s people in Christ, among all the churches. This is a difficult task since so many churches are given to an independent mindset with more or less the idea that only churches of their kind are truly Christian, or at least are the most sound and authentic to the Christian faith. That plays right into the hands of the spiritual enemy, actually coming from its hands as well.

A church is not worth its salt which fails to make unity within its own congregation a priority, and makes expression of the unity all have in Christ a priority as well. Decades back, ecumenical for me was a dirty word. Instead, we ought to downplay our differences as much as possible, and highlight our agreement, indeed our oneness in Christ. I would think on the ground that means churches should participate in ecumenical associations: Protestants with Catholics with Mennonites with Baptists with Pentecostals with the Orthodox and so on. 

The cosmic powers of this present darkness along with sin, death and “the flesh” are out to divide and destroy. Christ by the Spirit is present to redeem, save and heal. We can hopefully learn to appreciate our differences as distinctives to be brought into the whole. Yes, we have our different theologies, and that often seems to make the push for unity strange at best, and certainly strained and sometimes it can make it seem worse than that. But we can learn much from each other if we can look past our differences. Without thinking we have to be in complete agreement. It is only in and through Christ that complete unity will be found, and completely so at his return. Until then we’re to seek to find unity where it may be found by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

Especially the first sentence of the last paragraph was written under the influence of Tim Gombis’s excellent book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry. My application of that, so that what is amiss here cannot be blamed on Tim.

it takes a community

I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.

Romans 15:14

While this is pulling a passage out of context, nevertheless the main point Paul made from this verse is true: We in Christ are in this together, and we all need each other. And each and everyone of us has our part to play. It’s a matter of learning to discern together what the Spirit of Christ is saying to us, and what the Spirit is doing. This is not a lone ranger faith, but one in which we are dependent on God and interdependent on each other.

Other places make it clear that God gives leaders to help the body grow and who are responsible for oversight (Ephesians 4; Hebrews 13). But though they have their special role, they too are blessed by the give and take in the body of Christ, in community.

This needs to be emphasized in a culture in which the individual largely takes priority over community. That is a flaw. Each of us are valued as individuals in community. Yes, God values each of us individually, but we find our true life, even ourselves in community, along with others. We fit together as one, learning to settle into our God-given place, giving and receiving. In and through Jesus.

dreams and thoughts of what could have been

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-14

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Life makes philosophers of us all? Well, at least for those who take it seriously, though actually everyone has some philosophy meaning outlook on life. We can look back and see better, but mainly how God saw us through in spite of ourselves. And how hopefully we’ve come to see that what really matters is simple faith in and obedience to God. And to understand that our faith rests in the faithfulness of Christ, so that we follow together because of that. That can surely make all the difference in the long run.

If in your stronger more youthful decades you can put your all into following Christ in a community of followers of Christ, and seek to simply live in and from that reality, you will be truly blessed. Toward the end, the strength just isn’t the same, and the heart is often burdened down with the weight of other’s struggles, not to mention the inevitable troubles of life. And for most of us there’s regret and a wish that we could undo something or some things, and do other things all over again.

Lean on community in Jesus, and seek to be a follower of Jesus along with other followers of Jesus. Seek humility, above all just seek God’s love and will in Jesus by the Spirit, and with the desire to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves. We’re in this primarily not for ourselves, but for others. Together, Christ’s body for each other and to be light in the world. God will take care of things. And in the end will bring a good end, weaving everything somehow in that for good. Far beyond us, and I doubt we’ll ever fully understand it, but all will end well.

In and through Jesus.

just do your part

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

I would like to take just a slightly different turn then what I think this passage might be precisely saying, but then add that this turn is I think an apt illustration of how this might actually take place in the living vibrant organism, the church.

When we gather on Sunday as Christ’s body in that specific time and place there are those who have their special roles. Some to lead in worship and liturgy, maybe another one or two to share something, one or more to read Scripture, another to give the message, perhaps lead in a discussion and give the benediction. And there’s the life together beyond the meeting time, though my focus here is when we gather.

There are times in any organism when some members might have to pick it up and do extra because another member is down or struggling for whatever reason. 

What we need to guard against, and what I want to emphasize here is that we need to be relaxed even if we are that one who is down and may not feel ready, indeed may not be up to or be led to contribute during the service at all. It is Christ by the Spirit who actually directs the service. None of us do, or at least we’re not supposed to. We direct only in a secondary sense under the direction of Christ.

That said, while we should prepare for our part when on assignment, we should relax into the attitude that we ultimately are never in charge. And that on those weeks where we feel more like the lame man who needs healing than the ones given authority to heal, we should simply accept that, find our place, and wait on the Lord during that service. Believing Christ is present and will help us. Not thinking at all it depends on us, because the moment we think that, the life giving flow and direction from the Spirit is replaced by something else.

Instead we simply find our place, content to do and be whatever Christ might have us do or be, even if that means nothing at all, except to receive what Christ might give us from another part of his body.

In and through Jesus.

we need each other

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

In our individualistic culture in which everyone is supposed to look out for and take care of themselves, the idea that we need each other, that we’re our brother and sister’s keeper is all but lost on us. That is not something enmeshed in my white, western culture, at least not where I’ve lived. In fact, I’m pretty certain we don’t believe this at all. We rarely even pay lip service to it. How many times have I heard the thought that the best church is out in nature somewhere by one’s self? And when people do gather together for church, it’s often just to get something out of the message for one’s self, maybe say hi to the few along the way or just the greeters, then head back home.

But Scripture calls us to something else, something we not only fail to practice, but that we’re not acclimated to in the first place, out of our comfort zone for sure. A commitment to each other in Jesus which plays itself out in regularly meeting together, and being ready at least potentially in our spirits to give and to receive. God actually wants to help us through each other no less. Not just directly, but through others.

If we’re followers of Christ and thus Christians not in name only, then we can’t escape God’s call to us to come together since after all we’re one body in Christ. There may be unusual times such as the past year with COVID-19 when we can’t gather in person in the same way as before. But technology did allow us to meet virtually. Yes, not a great substitute for meeting in person, but better than nothing, and some of us we’re able to talk face to face with people we otherwise never would have. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. At the same time, mercifully, such times are only temporary. We need to find the good in them and that can come out of them, and go on.

But we need to be committed to what alas seems more than a stretch to many: gathering together to worship, pray, and just be with each other. In that dynamic Jesus is present yes in and through each other, and there’s not a one of us who doesn’t need that.