John Stott on the Christian Community

“The invisible God, who once made himself visible in Christ, now makes himself visible in Christians, if we love one another.  God is love in his essential being, and has revealed his love in the gift of his Son to live and die for us  Now he calls us to be a community of love, loving each other in the intimacy of his family –especially across the barriers of age and sex, race and rank–and loving the world he loves in its alienation, hunger, poverty and pain.  It is through the quality of our loving that God makes himself visible today.  We cannot proclaim the gospel of God’s love with any degree of integrity if we do not exhibit it in our love for others.”

John Stott

For more posts about loving one another see:

Little Children, Love One Another

Love One Another

By Our Love

 

 

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Creating Community

“The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy community.  But the person who loves the people around them will create community everywhere they go.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For more Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes see these posts:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Community of Saints

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Brotherly Love (Philia)

 

The Snare is Broken part 2

Ancient Israel didn’t have an “I” society.  The people of that time saw everything through an “us” lens.  Their identities were tied not just to their own egos but to the people into which they had been born.  No Israelite would think of themselves as isolated individuals but as part of a nation chosen by the Lord Himself.  The Church, as the continuation of Israel, is meant to be the same.  We identify not only with the people of St. Paul’s or the AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Churches), or Lutheranism, we also identify ourselves with all who trust in Jesus living today, as well as those who have gone before us and those who will come after us.

I saw recently that John McArthur, a well-known evangelical leader in this country is calling on us to not let our differences over non-essentials keep us from cooperating when we are dealing with issues not involving the fundamentals of the faith.  Of course we don’t want to associate or work together with those who deny those things which establish the boundaries of Christianity, but with all others we should be willing to go as far as we can without violating conscience.  That is part of being a true community, the true church.

As I mentioned earlier, David is listed as the author of Psalm 124.  It’s not certain when he wrote it.  It could have been when his son, Absalom, tried to take the throne from him.  I think it’s most likely, though, that it speaks of the Lord’s protection against some outside attacker, possibly the Philistines or the Amorites or the Moabites.  We just don’t know.  What we do know, though, is that the Lord delivered Israel, His chosen people from their enemy.

Whatever the enemy was, they would have swallowed up Israel alive.  You and I, indeed the Church as a whole, sometimes experience things which seem able to swallow us up alive.  Illness, financial problems, death, fear — all of these and more can at one time or another seem too big for us to deal with, too great for us to defeat, too overwhelming for us to even contemplate.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow …..

 

For part one of this sermon, go to this post:

The Snare is Broken part 1

A Sheep of Your Own Fold

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant.  Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive (him or her) into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.
Amen.

I don’t know about other denominations, but if you are a Lutheran, you have probably heard this prayer at the graveside of many funerals.  Recently I’ve been reading a book entitled And Then We Grew Up by Rachel Friedman.  The author interviews a number of students who attended a music and arts camp for children, describing where they are today in the pursuit of their talent.  Almost all described that camp as a defining experience for them, a place where they were finally among others who “got” them, who understood their passion and their drive to develop it.  This was true whether they became professional musicians or not.

It occurs to me that we, as Christians, are “sheep of the same fold” and in gathering together we experience that same kind of comfort and acceptance.  In our congregation we are among others who, unlike the world, understand our desire to know and serve Christ.  It’s a place where, like the students, we learn discipline in practicing and using our abilities.  It’s a place where we join together in worship and teamwork.  It should be an experience that defines us, that we carry with us wherever we go and whatever we do.

The music camp was not without conflict.  There was rivalry and stress.  There were teachers who were encouraging and others who were not.  There were campers who were loved and some who were difficult.  But all those things were less important than the underlying and binding goal of becoming the best artists and musicians the students could be.

Is your congregation like that for you?  If not, it should be.  We share the same goal, we serve the same God;  we gather together to grow better in our efforts to become sanctified.  These are the people who “get” that.  We are sheep of the same fold.

For more on Rachel Friedman’s book go to this post:

Are You a Grown-Up?

 

And Speaking of Retreats …..

“To be on a Pilgrimage is to go through Christ to the Father under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, bringing others along with you.”

The quote above is on the first page of Pilgrim’s Guide which you will receive if you attend a Lutheran Via de Cristo Weekend.  While some retreats are quiet, maybe even silent, this one is very social.  There is singing, group discussion, and sometimes even skits and jokes.  It is definitely about Christian community and being with others.  If you’re an introvert like I am, it’s doesn’t seem particularly restful.

My husband and I made our original weekends in 1990.  Recently I was part of a group of cursillistas (this is the term for someone who has made a cursillo, or 3 day retreat of this kind — the movement originated in Spain and so many of the words used are Spanish) who showed up to help with a weekend retreat in progress.  I got to see some “significant others” from my past Christian walk, others who “came along with me.”

I’ve heard it said that every Christian needs a Paul (mentor), a Barnabas (peer/encourager) and a Timothy (someone to mentor) in their lives.  The first person I ran into was Doris — Doris is older than I am, and a Christian I have always admired her calmness, good judgement and maturity.  Definitely a Paul.  Then I saw Mary.  Mary and I are close to the same age, and our children grew up in the church together.  We shared so many experiences as we matured spiritually and became leaders in the congregation.  Mary is a Barnabas.  Finally, at the end of the evening, I got a hug from Amy, Mary’s daughter.  “My mentor” she exclaimed as we embraced.  Wow!  I never knew Amy thought of me that way.  I guess she’s my Timothy.

While helping with the weekend was not a traditional “rest” experience, it was rejuvenating to reconnect with others who have influenced my life, and who have been influenced by me. It’s a way of taking a break from the day to day and gaining some perspective by looking back.  We don’t always see what’s being accomplished while we’re in the midst of things, but God is always at work.  Whether you’re resting or relaxing, on retreat or celebrating the sabbath, remember to take someone along with you.  We’re not meant to journey alone.

For more on Via de Cristo see these posts:

Persevere Upward

A Prayer of Personal Dedication (Obedience)

My Via de Cristo Experience

Admonish One Another — A Quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Life Together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Community of Saints

“The community of the saints is not an ‘ideal’ community consisting of perfect and sinless men and women, where there is no need of further repentance. No, it is a community which proves that it is worthy of the gospel of forgiveness by constantly and sincerely proclaiming God’s forgiveness”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

If you have never read Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I highly recommend it as a realistic look at living in the Christian communion of saints.

 

Environment #1

This month I’ll be posting parts of a Lutheran Via de Cristo talk I gave about Environments.  This is the first installment.

It’s has been said, and rightly so, that the Christian life is not a destination, but a journey.  You might choose to think of it as a train trip.  Our first talk spoke about the importance of having an ideal.  It’s just crucial–think about it–you might be at the train station, but you can’t get on the right train if you don’t know where you’re headed.  As Christians, we want to head toward the life of grace, a conscious and growing life in Christ.  This means a lifelong process of reforming and transforming our lives as our will is conformed to His.  Talks about piety, study and action gave us some idea of how to do this through personal spiritual discipline.  Our last talk ,Leaders, presented a picture of the truly dynamic Christian as a leader.  This talk goes a step further because Jesus called us to follow Him, not only for our own salvation, but for the salvation of the world.  This is the true mission of the church.  It’s not enough to get on the right train and sit quietly reading our Bible until the journey ends.  It’s not enough to interact in a friendly and helpful manner with our fellow passengers. We must get off at every stop and invite others to come along with us.

There’s a very good book you might want to read sometime, called “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this book, Bonhoeffer says that Christianity means community and the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters is a gift of grace, pure grace.  Then he goes on to tell us that the Christian’s calling is not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the midst of the world, even among enemies!  In the book of Matthew, Jesus instructed his disciples, saying:

“….you are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house ….Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

We can’t stay isolated in our churches and in groups of fellow Christians. We must go out — to our families, our workplaces, our communities –and radiate God’s love into our personal environments.

A Quote from Reframing the Soul by Gregory Spencer

I reviewed this book earlier this week, and although it doesn’t specifically apply to our month’s theme, Laity, the author does have some important things to say about what he calls “engaging with others.”  To be successful as laypeople we must be able to get along and work well with one another. In any congregation there are differences:  differences in background, education, ability, understanding and more.  Sometimes these differences lead to conflict.  When that happens, Gregory Spencer points to the 4th Chapter of Ephesians for a guide to “reframing” our outlook.  Maybe you’ll find it helpful.

“An extended biblical passage that addresses “engaging with others” is Ephesians 4.  Paul reminds his readers of what makes for a strong community.  Overall we maintain unity by living peacefully (3) and fulfilling our various roles and callings (4-13).  We do this by putting off the old self and putting on the new self (22-34, some obvious reframing here), feeding certain character qualities–humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love(2) industriousness (28), compassion and forgiveness(32) –and by starving sensual indulgence (17-19), extended anger, bitterness, brawling, slander and malice(31).  I’m particularly taken with the admonitions to speak the truth in love (15,25) and to talk for the sake of building others up (29).”

T.E.A.M.

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  1 Peter 4:10

You’ve probably heard this before:  T.E.A.M = Together everyone accomplishes more.  It’s true in the church as well as in business.  The laity of the church, along with the Pastor are a team.  Often the Bible speaks of the church as a “body.”  We have different gifts and different functions.  We do our best work when all the parts are working together.  If one body part isn’t doing its’ job, the whole body suffers.

I’ve had some of my best life experiences working with others in the church.  Years ago, I wrote original Vacation Bible School programs for my church.  It wasn’t a solo effort.  I did the curriculum, but my sister, who is artistically creative, suggested crafts;  a member who loved to sing chose and led the music; a preschool teacher gave us suggestions about which things would work well with different age groups;  a great organizer became the director.  We did this for about five years, and when I see one of those ladies today they often mention what fun we had pulling it all together!  I could never have done it all on my own.

This blog is another example.  Although my blogging friends tease me about being the obsessive blogger, Michele was the driving force in getting the blog set up and going;  Paula made it pretty and added some features we didn’t know how to do;  Beth Ann started me thinking about posting songs and music … and so on.  It is a true group effort and I just love it when God mixes with us in a way that creates something none of us imagined we could do.

The best thing about T.E.A.M efforts?  As Peter says in the quote above, they are a way to pass God’s grace on to others.  Isn’t that what the church is all about?  So, my advice is, dream big, and then find some others who will dream along with you.  Pray, work, and let God use you in amazing ways.

He loves you and so do I!