A Public Faith(fulness)

Standard

As Bob Trube noted in his blog entry yesterday, last Sunday he preached about the parable in Luke 18:1-8 that Jesus tells in order to encourage his disciples to be persistent in prayer—especially prayer for justice. Bob commented on recent events in which African American men were killed by white police officers and suggested that we not give up praying and acting for racial justice and reconciliation.

Brenda Account PictureI have long wondered why it is that African American Christians and white American Christians see things so differently. We’re all followers of the same Jesus, but our theologies have different emphases and we tend to belong to different political parties. (I’m making broad generalizations, of course, but there are observable tendencies here, at least among evangelicals.) I’ve learned a lot by listening to my African American students. I’ve also had my eyes opened by a book called Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith (Oxford, 2000).

Emerson and Smith argue that white American evangelicals have an “accountable freewill individualist perspective” on how the world works: things happen because individuals make free choices, for which they are held accountable by God. This perspective shapes the toolbox with which we engage the world: individualism, relationalism and anti-structuralism. I don’t know about you, but in my experience this is pretty much on-target. Evangelicals (my own context) believe that God deals directly with individuals, because God wants to form a personal relationship with each individual. Conversion is an event between the individual and God; church is a helpful but non-essential add-on. This view may be one reason why the number of people who identify as Christians but have no church connection is growing.

This “personal” (individual) perspective means that white Christians tend to be blind to structural sins like racism. Emerson and Smith define racism as “the collective misuse of power that results in diminished life opportunities for some racial groups.” If the topic of racism comes up, we inventory ourselves and decide that we aren’t racist. We harbor no ill will toward persons of another race; some of them may even be our friends. Our responsibility ends there. If other individuals are racist, they should repent of that, and everything will be fine.

This approach ignores the fact that sinful social structures take on a life of their own. America’s history of slavery is a case in point. People on both sides of that debate were Christians, and they argued from the Bible to prove their case. Most Christian slaveholders made no connection between their faith and freeing their slaves, because slavery was a socially accepted institution. The only reason the institution was eventually abolished was because society changed—in this case, through civil war.

Similarly, many people involved in the 1994 tribal genocide in Rwanda were Christians. Some of them were even pastors. One at least one occasion, a pastor offered sanctuary to members of the other tribe and then locked the refugees in the church and burned it down. These Christian murderers had accepted the validity of their faith for their personal lives but didn’t let it transform the tribal hatreds in their society.

When we hear about events like the shooting of an African American man by a white police officer, do we think of it only as an event between two individuals? Or do we reflect on the social context of the event, asking why there are still racial tensions in that community—or in ours? Do we jump in to defend one side or the other, or do we ask ourselves how we might contribute to reconciliation instead of division?

Prayer for justice is certainly one of our responsibilities in situations like that. But as Bob suggested, we should also consider what role the church should have—and what actions the church should take—in addressing the social realities that give rise to such situations. We should never accept the suggestion that our faith is valid only for our personal lives. Jesus is Lord of all, and he plans to extend his rule into all areas of life (1 Corinthians 15:22-28). He wants to renew the world and fix everything that’s broken (Romans 8:18-21; Revelation 21:1-5). What might he want us to do in his name? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that Christians listening to one another would be a good start.

Boundaries

Standard

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. (Galatians 6:1-5)

Rich’s message this week called us to have integrity in our dealings as Christians in any situation we might encounter. He gave us three principles to help us in this: claiming our time, self-differentiation, and establishing disciplines. They’re all related to intentionality and to keeping Christ at the center of our lives. We need to live all of life in light of who we are in Christ and what Christ has called us to do.

Brenda Account PictureI was particularly struck by the call to self-differentiation. It was all about boundaries—setting clear boundaries so we know what is ours and what belongs to someone else—so that we aren’t defined by others, but by Christ, and we aren’t trying to make others into the people we want them to be but allowing them to find their own identity in Christ. We once spent an adult education class reading the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend that made some of the same points. I recommend the book to anyone who hasn’t read it.

Along the way, Rich warned us about dumping our anxieties and misery onto other people, wanting to make them as miserable as we are ourselves. Conversely, we should have a strong enough sense of our own identity not to be engulfed and swept away by the problems of others. Neither of these situations is healthy for anyone involved.

I pondered this for a while. What’s the difference between going to someone for help and dumping our problems on them? What’s the difference between empathetic listening and losing your way in someone else’s problems? These lines can be a bit tricky sometimes, especially in close relationships that may have a lot of baggage.

There’s an old saying that misery loves company. We may know people who are exhausting to be around because they drain our emotional resources. They demand our sympathy, but we know from experience that nothing we do or say will make any difference. They are so immersed in their distress that they can’t take an interest in other people’s lives. Maybe we love someone like this. Maybe we are someone like this.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about people who are in crisis or who are struggling with a long-term problem. All of us fit into one of these categories at some time or other. But there’s a difference between being in crisis and wanting everyone else to be in crisis because we are.

So what’s the difference? If we’re the one in crisis, maybe it means honestly asking for help. That can be hard to do, but we all need to do it sooner or later. That’s one of the reasons the church exists. Pretending to one another that everything is fine doesn’t honor the intimacy Jesus wants to create among his people. Venting to a trusted person is okay. But while everybody needs to vent once in a while, doing it all the time doesn’t respect the other person, who no doubt has problems of their own. Once we ask for help, we need to consider it honestly and respectfully when it’s offered—even when it may mean changes or hard work on our part.

We should also be sensitive to the person we’re sharing our burdens with. If they’re tired or burdened themselves, it may not be a good time to call on them. Sometimes, when we do call on them, we may just need to let them share their burdens with us. Where we can, we should foster genuine two-way relationships that bless both parties.

If we’re the one ministering to someone in crisis, we need to set healthy boundaries. We are called to sympathize deeply with one another, to bear one another’s burdens and weep with those who weep. But if we lose our way in depression or despair, we can’t help ourselves or anyone else. We have to remember that in Christ we have a place to stand. Despite all the trials of life, we have hope; we have the Spirit, the Scriptures, and the church. This is what we have to offer one another when life gets too hard. Sometimes we just have to hold on to these things.

In Galatians 6, Paul says that we must bear one another’s burdens, but we must also carry our own load. Burdens are meant to be shared, but we must take responsibility for the “load” of our own lives. Figuring out which is which can be difficult sometimes, but we owe it to one another to try. With God’s grace, mutual forgiveness, and a sense of humor, we can sort it out.

“DON’T PANIC”

Standard

According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the reasons the book of that title was so popular was that it had the words “DON’T PANIC” in big friendly letters on the cover.  If you had the Guide, and if you knew where your towel was, you were well prepared to face whatever galactic disasters might come your way.

The sermon this week at Smoky Row Brethren Church was about the Christian and fear. Rich talked about worry, fear, anxiety, and panic. These feelings can be caused by many things, from brain chemistry to poor choices. To deal with all of them, however, we need to have a deep sense of God’s love for us and God’s faithfulness to us, as well as an awareness of the resources we have in Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the church.

Brenda Account Picture

I’m no stranger to this topic. Worry runs in my family, generally on the female side. My mother worries about a lot of things, which usually leads to a phone call to me. I worry about my mother. I try to keep on top of my worries and do what I can about them, before they escalate into nastier forms—anxiety and panic. I’ve had experience with those, too.

Sometimes we need that flood of adrenaline—to get out of a burning house or to grab the toddler who strays into the street. But for some of us, our “crisis meter” is broken, and we get a flood of adrenaline at inappropriate times—or we just can’t shut if off.

I’m pretty sure that I inherited a tendency toward anxiety from my mother (and hers). Add to that the perfectionism I absorbed while growing up, along with seasons of hormonal changes, and you get a recipe for nail-biting, floor-pacing stress. We perfectionists tend to take on responsibility for things we can’t control, which is a no-win situation. (Not to mention that our sense of being in control is mostly an illusion anyway!)

For me, anxiety starts as an elevated worry about something in particular. If I don’t attend to it—think it through, find an appropriate response, and commit it to God—it can escalate to anxiety about everything. It’s as if the anxiety is a virus trying to replicate itself; it starts looking around for more things to attach itself to. At this point, thinking no longer helps, because I just keep thinking obsessively about all the things I’m anxious about. If I get to the point of feeling trapped and overwhelmed, I’m susceptible to panic. Now it’s a fight-or-flight situation, but there’s nothing concrete to fight and nowhere to run. Breakdown!  Fortunately for me, I haven’t had any panic attacks in a long time. I’m usually able to manage an anxiety outbreak before it gets to that point.

Everybody’s situation is different, but here are ten things I’ve learned that might help somebody else.

  1. If you’re having severe anxiety, don’t try to “gut it out” and handle it on your own. God has given us the church for a reason, and we don’t get extra points for machismo.
  2. Examine your circumstances. See if you can change something that would reduce your stress. Maybe you should start looking for a new job. Maybe that relationship isn’t worth it. Maybe you just need a vacation!
  3. Go to your doctor. Find out if there are physiological factors causing or contributing to the anxiety. Medical intervention may help you manage the anxiety or at least calm you down long enough to figure out what’s going on.
  4. Get wise counsel. Find out what personal, interpersonal, social, and spiritual factors cause or contribute to your anxiety. Maybe your friends or your pastor can supply this counsel, but if anxiety is a frequent problem for you, you probably need to talk to a professional counselor.
  5. Go back to basics. Remind yourself that God loves you, is for you, and is with you. Go to Scripture to remind yourself of God’s character and promises. Whenever you find something that’s especially helpful, write it down and look at it if you find yourself getting anxious again.  Keep a journal of the things you learn.
  6. Learn how to pray. Prayer isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. For example, praying desperately for God to remove the anxiety may only make you more anxious. Knowing where the anxiety is coming from will help you to pray more specifically. Praying through Scripture, such as the Psalms, can be helpful. The Psalms help us cry out to God within a framework of trust. I have sometimes been led to pray against spiritual attack, although I don’t believe that all anxiety has a spiritual cause.
  7. Identify your resources. See point 1, above. One of the most damaging effects of anxiety is the self-fulfilling fear that it will happen again. It helps to have your resources set up beforehand. Your pastor, doctor, counselor, and friends can be an important source of support. Even knowing they’re there can help, because you know you’re not alone.
  8. Get enough sleep. You can’t deal with anything if you’re exhausted. If you’re having trouble with this, talk to your doctor.
  9. Get some exercise. Work off some of the tension; it does help. Going outdoors gives you the extra bonus of sunlight, which helps with mood.
  10. Eat right. Remember to eat, even if you don’t feel like it. Try to eliminate stimulants, like caffeine, and cut down on carbs. This makes a big difference for some people.

These are just suggestions. There’s no shame in having anxiety, and there’s no easy formula for dealing with it. But God is still there, and help is available. I hope Smoky Row will be a place where we can be honest about our struggles and help one another with them.

What about you? Are you ever troubled by anxiety? Have you found anything that helps?

Unfruitful Introspection

Standard

As Ben and Bob have already observed, Rich’s sermon this week was about being alone. How often are we alone, with only our thoughts for company? Do we deliberately seek time alone to reflect on our lives and realize our identity in Christ, or do we distract ourselves from serious thinking with reading, TV, video games, music, Facebook…? What does it mean to be a Christian when we’re alone?

Brenda Account PictureMuch of the sermon focused our attention on the innumerable ways in which we avoid being alone with our thoughts. This was interesting to me, since being alone with my thoughts is my default mode—and I usually enjoy it. I’m almost always analyzing and reflecting, turning things over in my mind. I am reflective to a fault. (This is no doubt why I’m sometimes anxious.) In fact, I deliberately choose some distractions so that I can stop thinking about things.

Rich also stated that if we don’t even ask ourselves what God might be teaching us in a particular situation, we aren’t responding to that situation in a Christian way. I thought about this observation for quite a while. Does this mean that non-reflective extroverts aren’t Christians? I have a friend who says that I taught him how to be introspective; before then he didn’t know how to do it! But Rich pointed out that both introverts and extroverts have a problem with distraction; it’s just that the distractions may be different.

Here’s where the sermon connected with me. Although I have no problem with solitude or reflection, I have to admit that my tendency is not to ask what God is trying to teach me in and through the events of my life. I try to understand things that happen and learn from them—even learn about myself—but I rarely stop long enough to listen to what God might want to say to me. As I learned when I started to practice listening in my prayer life, silence is easy for me but listening is hard.

I have as many habitual distractions as anyone else. And even when I get away from the external distractions, I have a lot of interior noise that can drown out the voice of God. I’ve found that a break in my routine can help. The best thing I’ve done along this line is to do five-day silent retreats at a couple of Trappist monasteries. It usually takes me two days to slow down enough to be able to listen!

Not everyone has the luxury to go on retreat—and I don’t do it very often!—but as Rich said, all of us can carve out a few minutes to practice attentiveness to ourselves in relation to God. Rich suggested doing this while we’re in the bathroom, but we can do it during any activity that doesn’t require a lot of thought, such as taking a shower, mowing the lawn, folding laundry, walking on a treadmill, riding a bike, weeding a garden. Some people call this mindfulness, simply being aware of ourselves in the presence of God. We can do this in the confidence that we are loved by God and always welcome.

So I don’t think I’m going to pick up on Rich’s bathroom suggestion, but as the new school year gets started, I am going to try to find a time that works for me where I can be mindful of myself and God—and see if God has anything to say. How about you?

Christ and Caesar

Standard

“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21, KJ V)

Brenda Colijn photo smallRich talked about citizenship in this week’s sermon. He explored our responsibility as American Christians and challenged us to think about whether we ever give more allegiance to the American part of our identity than to the Christian part of our identity. As American Christians, we sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between the two.

The quotation at the top is about citizenship and allegiance. I quoted it in the King James Version translation because the “Render…unto Caesar” version is the famous one. People ask Jesus a trick question to try to trap him in a no-win situation. They ask if they should pay taxes to Caesar or not. If Jesus says yes, he looks like a traitor to Israel. If he says no, he’s a rebel against the Roman authorities.

Instead of answering yes or no, Jesus tells them to look at a coin and tell him whose picture is on it. When they answer “Caesar’s,” he tells them to give to Caesar what belongs to him and to God what belongs to God.

This passage has been understood differently by different Christian traditions. Martin Luther taught that this passage showed that Christians are citizens of two kingdoms: Christ’s kingdom and the earthly kingdom they live in. Luther interpreted Jesus’ statement as counsel to divide our allegiance between Caesar and God. We should obey both God and the state, even though some of our responsibilities to the state conflict with our commitments as Christians. We can’t escape this conflict as long as we live.

The Anabaptists (forebears of the Brethren) had a different perspective. They believed that we are citizens of only one kingdom—the kingdom of Christ. In this world we are “resident aliens.” Although we live here, we are members of a different kingdom and should act like it. As Paul says in Philippians 3:20, our citizenship is in heaven—that is, we’re subjects of a heavenly king, and we’re waiting for that king to return to complete God’s kingdom on earth. We express our hope for this every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer (“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”).

Jesus wasn’t trying to split our allegiance. We have only one Lord—Jesus himself. In fact, we’re “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20), representatives of our Lord and king to the people in the countries where we live. Jesus’ question about the image on the coin reminds us that we belong to the one whose image we bear. Just as the coin bears the image of Caesar, we bear the image of God. So while we pay taxes to earthly kings, we give ourselves to our heavenly king. That allegiance trumps any other allegiance.

That doesn’t mean we can’t love the country in which we live. We certainly should. If we love something, we want it to be the best it can be. We do what we can to support it, and we hold it accountable. But our ultimate allegiance is always to our own Lord. If a conflict arises between the will of the state and the will of God, “we must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29 NRSV).

Keeping our priorities straight is actually the best thing we can do for our country. Only then can we be “salt” and “light” (Matthew 5:13-16) that can preserve our society and challenge it to live up to its ideals. Perhaps also we will hasten the day when “the kingdom of the world [will] become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15, NRSV).

Failure and Forgiveness

Standard

In discussing friendship and play in his sermon this week, Rich observed that developing skill in either requires failing a lot. So in learning how to play well or make friends well, we have to learn how to fail well. That idea has been in my mind this week. What would it mean to fail well?

Brenda Account PictureFor some of us perfectionists, putting “fail” and “well” in the same sentence doesn’t make sense. I know that I have a hard time coming to terms with failure. I’m much more tolerant of other people’s failures than I am of my own. Once when I was confiding to my husband that I thought I had failed in relating to a friend, he said, “Sometimes you find out where the boundaries are by crossing them. You’ll know next time.” Learn from your mistakes…what a concept!

I’d say that learning from your mistakes is the second principle of failing well.

The first principle, I think, is letting yourself fail in the first place. For some of us, failure feels so terminal that we do all we can to avoid it—including refusing to take risks, avoiding close relationships, or lying to ourselves and others.

As Rich said, friendships in Jesus’ day meant mutual obligation. I’d make this a general rule: there is no intimacy without obligation. The kind of obligation depends on the kind of relationship. But if you take the risk of really knowing someone and letting them know you, you take on some responsibility for the trust that they’ve placed in you. And wherever there are responsibilities or obligations, there’s the possibility of failure.

If we want to have friendships that are more than superficial and disposable, we need to deal with our failures. So here are a few more thoughts on how to fail well.

Create a “culture” in which it’s okay to fail. If we don’t start off by trying to impress a new friend or pretending we’ve got it all together, it will be easier to deal with the failures when they happen. The church really ought to be a “friend network” where it’s okay to fail, and where we can teach one another how to do it well.

Own up. We should be willing to admit when we’ve screwed up. This is hard, but it’s the only way to have authentic friendships. Once we’ve done it a time or two, maybe failure won’t feel so terminal.

Be willing to apologize. Once we’ve figured out which failures are ours, we should apologize for them. We don’t necessarily need to shoulder all the blame, but we also can’t hide behind the fact that our friend hasn’t apologized. The only actions we can control are our own. It’s amazing how an apology can create space for a conversation that seemed impossible.

Fix what can be fixed.  Sometimes we need to do more than apologize.  Maybe we need to repair or replace something we damaged.  Maybe we need to repair some damaged trust.  If something can be put right, we should do it.

Keep short accounts. We shouldn’t let failures build up to the point that both sides are approaching the nuclear option. It’s a lot easier to sort out a small issue than it is to defuse a much bigger one later on. It’s also a lot easier to arrange to deal with a small issue. The big issues have a tendency to explode when we’re not ready.

Learn how to give and receive forgiveness. As forgiven people, we Christians ought to have this down, but we don’t. Some of us have trouble forgiving, and some of us have trouble accepting forgiveness. Or maybe all of us have trouble with both. Forgiving someone means letting them off the hook for the hurt they’ve inflicted. We don’t pretend it never happened, or that it wasn’t that bad, but we deliberately choose to bear the pain ourselves and not to make the other person suffer for what they’ve done. This is what Jesus did for us, after all. To receive forgiveness, we have to admit that we did wrong and commit to doing better. This is what we do when we repent of our sins. Neither side is easy, but both are necessary for true reconciliation to take place. When this happens, a friendship can come out stronger than it was before.

So that’s where this week’s reflections have led me. What do you think? How can we fail well?

The Good or Faithful Life?

Standard

The current sermon series at Smoky Row Brethren Church is about how to live well as a Christian in lots of different situations. One of the things Rich asked us to think about is what makes a good life. What does it mean to live well? Do you answer this differently depending on whether you’re a Christian or not? I think some of the answers are likely to be the same for everybody: good health, long life, meaningful work, strong relationships. In some ways, though, a Christian’s answers might stand out from the crowd.

For many people today, the good life is spelled success. To live the good life, you need to be young, rich, sexy, and famous. Living well means having it all. The New Testament writers aren’t impressed by these values: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever” (1 John 2:15-17 NRSV). Jesus says not even to worry about basic things like food and clothing: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). This sounds too impractical to be a roadmap to success.

Brenda Account PictureThe Christian “good life,” though, seems to be less about success and more about faithfulness. That’s how Paul sums up his own life as it nears its end: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, faithfulness is what the master (God) rewards: “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). Faithfulness isn’t about how much we get, but what we do with what we have.

From what we see in the Bible, the faithful life is a mixed bag. Hebrews 11 talks about some pretty great things: people conquered kingdoms, escaped death, administered justice, saw loved ones raised from the dead. Unfortunately, faithful people also experienced poverty, persecution, imprisonment, and death in many gruesome forms. The faithful life is often less glamorous—and sometimes shorter—than the successful life. On the plus side, anybody can be faithful—anybody, that is, who follows Jesus and relies on the help of the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to be young, rich, sexy, or famous!

We could always sum this up by saying that for a Christian, the good life looks like Jesus. But what does that look like, given that Jesus never went to college, raised kids, worked at a corporation, played sports, retired from a job, or did many of the other things we do all the time? We’ll have a chance to flesh this out as we think about “the good life” in more detail in coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Learning from 1 Corinthians

Standard

In his sermon this week, Rich invited us to look back over 1 Corinthians and reflect on what we’ll take away from the book. He asked us what we would say if someone asked us what the book was about. What has struck me is that 1 Corinthians is a master class by the apostle Paul on how to apply the gospel to life. Here are some examples.

ImageUnity (chapters 1-4): Christians are one in Christ, and the one Holy Spirit dwells in them. Thus there is no excuse for cliques or celebrity leaders in the church. Those of us who think we know stuff need to be especially careful to keep the focus on Jesus and follow the Spirit’s lead. We are all members of one body, and that body has only one Head.

Unity and diversity (chapter 12): But unity doesn’t mean uniformity. The church, as the body of Christ, needs both unity and diversity to function. All gifts are necessary, and all people are important. This means that our value doesn’t come from how we compare with other people. It comes from the unique dignity and gifts that God has granted to each of us.

Bodies (chapters 5, 15): God cares about our bodies. What we do with them is important. We’re whole people, not souls riding around in disposable shells. Our spiritual lives have physical expressions, and our physical lives have spiritual expressions. We belong to God, body and soul, and God plans to make us truly whole in the resurrection.

Sex (chapters 5-7): Sex is good: it’s meant to be a joyful part of marriage, experienced with mutual sensitivity. Not all sexual expressions are good, though. Our sexuality, like every other part of our lives, must be submitted to Christ. Marriage is good. Singleness is good. Whatever our marital status, we need to be following Jesus.

Separation (chapter 5): Some Christian groups think the church is called to be separate from the world so that it won’t be tainted by the world’s immorality. But Paul is more practical: there’s no way to completely avoid contact with immoral people as long as we’re in the world. What concerns Paul is that we keep our own house in order. That is, we can’t afford to overlook unrepentant immorality in the church. We may have to have some hard conversations and do some hard things to get a fellow believer to wake up–and we may have to do some waking up ourselves–but if we care about one another, we need to take this responsibility seriously.

Freedom (chapters 8-11): Freedom is wonderful, and as Christians we’re free to do a lot of things. However, most of all we’re free to love. This may mean freely choosing not to exercise some of our freedoms out of love for someone else. This isn’t a license to start criticizing the behavior of others; it’s an opportunity to put the wellbeing of other people ahead of our own enjoyment.

Love (chapter 13): Anything we do has to be guided by love. Paul isn’t talking about romantic bliss; he’s talking about the hard work of getting along with people we may not even like very much. We don’t get to pick who our relatives are, even in the church family.

Hope (chapter 15): Whenever we’re tempted to get annoyed with one another, we need to remember the big picture. Our differences will shrink in light of the glorious future God has planned for us. Because of the resurrection, we know that our work for the Lord is not in vain.

What have you learned from 1 Corinthians?

Everyday Faithfulness

Standard

“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. . . . If Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am.”  (1 Cor 16:2, 10 NRSV)

Brenda Account PictureThe thing that strikes me about this section of the book of 1 Corinthians is how ordinary it is.  Following a rather exalted discussion of the resurrection, Paul deals with some items of everyday faithfulness.  The church in Corinth isn’t the only one that has needed reminding to fulfill their financial obligations and not to be too hard on a young pastor.  This is the “stuff of life,” as Rich said in his sermon this week.  It reminds me that this stuff was all real—real people dealing with real challenges and opportunities in a gifted but rambunctious congregation.

We sometimes have exalted ideas about the sacredness of Scripture that removes it from everyday life.  But evidently God cares about everyday things.  Much of the everyday life of a congregation happens behind the scenes by the people who pay the bills, make the phone calls, clean the church, and show up for property care days.  Without all these acts of everyday faithfulness, the more noticeable work of Smoky Row Brethren Church—the worship service, the food pantry, the community garden—wouldn’t be possible.

The Corinthians were addicted to showy stuff—exceptional knowledge, eloquent rhetoric, flashy gifts.  Some of them were disappointed in Paul because he wasn’t showy enough.  We’re not a particularly showy congregation.  Although gifted, we tend to be understated rather than flashy.  But even we can forget to value the everyday things and honor the people who do them.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, is known for his little book, The Practice of the Presence of God.  He hated washing dishes at his monastery but found that he kept being assigned to that task.  His boring and frustrating experience was transformed when he decided to wash dishes with the Lord, recognizing the Lord’s presence and blessing even in such a menial task.

Let’s remind ourselves of the Lord’s presence as we go about our everyday tasks this week.  Leave some comments about what you experience!

Mind Over Matter?

Standard

“If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” (1 Cor 15:32 NRSV)

In this chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul is responding to members of the church who are denying the resurrection.  That is, they’re rejecting the idea that believers in Christ will be raised from the dead and given perfected bodies when he returns.  Paul notes that if resurrection doesn’t happen, then Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, either; and if Jesus wasn’t raised, then he can’t save us.  He’s just a good man who died.  As Rich observed in his sermon, there is no salvation without resurrection.

Brenda Colijn photo smallThe Corinthians were probably rejecting the idea of resurrection because they’d been influenced by the Greek philosophical idea that spirit is good and matter is evil.  Greek philosophers thought that the best possible afterlife would be to leave our bodies to rot in the ground and live forever as disembodied spirits.  To a Greek mind, the idea of people walking around in resurrected bodies would be as appealing as a zombie apocalypse!

A preference for spirit over body has infiltrated the church, too.  We talk a lot about going to heaven when we die, but when was the last time you heard a sermon or sang a hymn or chorus about the resurrection of believers?

If there is no resurrection, then there’s no point in making sacrifices in this life, because this life is all we have.  Like the old beer commercial said, “You only go around once in life; grab all the gusto you can!”  And if there’s no resurrection, what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter.  This can go in two directions:  either we overindulge our bodies or we despise them.  Sometimes we alternate these, and sometimes we do both at once.

Rich talked mostly about the issue of overeating, which is an increasing problem for Americans.  If someone watched what and how we eat, would they think that we believed in the resurrection?  Or do we eat as if there’s no tomorrow?  But overeating isn’t the only way to disrespect our bodies.  Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia show the same obsession with what we put in our mouths, and they’re at least as dangerous as obesity.  Multi-billion-dollar industries exist to make women dislike their bodies so the companies can sell them things, and these industries are targeting more and more men, as well.  Food is one of the main ways that people self-medicate to cope with the trials of life.  You don’t need a prescription to buy it, after all.

And that’s just food.  We could also talk about exercise, sleep, addictions, sex, entertainment, stress.  Do we treat our bodies as gifts from God to steward until the day that God will glorify them?  Maybe that means working ourselves a little harder, or maybe that means showing ourselves some compassion and respect.  Whatever our situation is, the resurrection means that what we do with our bodies now is an investment in eternity.