Agree In the Lord, Example #1

Years ago, before my husband was a Pastor, I was elected to the Church Council as recording secretary.  After I read my first meeting minutes, our Pastor started to make a comment ….then he chuckled and said, “never mind, Joan, I’ll talk to you about the minutes later.”

I was embarrassed and upset.  Something was obviously wrong with the way I recorded the meeting, and he had let everyone else know it.  I went to him later and said, “You might as well have just gone ahead and criticized me there.  Why didn’t you just finish telling me what I did wrong?”

His answer?  “I started to say your minutes were the best we had ever had, but I caught myself, realizing how rude and ungrateful that would sound to the members who had done it before.”  As you can imagine, that deflated my anger in a second.  Now I was embarrassed to realize how quickly I had jumped to the wrong conclusion.

My point?  We can’t assume we know what someone else is thinking, or what their actions really mean.  If you’re in doubt, do as the Bible says, go to that person and ask.  You may find out you misjudged them, or you may be giving them an opportunity to apologize.  Either way, you’ve saved your relationship and you can continue to “agree in the Lord.”

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Agree in the Lord

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.  Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”  Philippians 4:2-3

This brief message is given near the end of the book of Philippians.  Evidentially there has been a serious quarrel between two members of the congregation, leaders who have worked with Paul to advance the gospel.  This pains him, and he begs them to work out their differences.

Disagreements like this still happen, and they create a tense and unhappy atmosphere in the church.  Notice that Paul does not take sides, probably because when a relationship is broken, both people have contributed to the problem.  Both must be willing to work toward reconciliation and peace.  Paul also asks a third party, his “true companion” (possibly Epaphroditus who delivered the letter) to help them resolve things.  He asks the women to “agree in the Lord.”  That doesn’t mean they have to agree in every detail, they don’t have to become best friends, just be willing to set aside personal grievances for the sake of Christ and the good works they can continue to do together.

Have you ever felt upset with a fellow member?  What did you do?  Blow up and tell them off?  Run to another member and start gossip about their bad behavior?  Complain to the Pastor and expect him to take your side?  All of these actions will only magnify the problem.  In the book of Matthew we find the correct first step toward a solution:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”  Matthew 18:15

Sometimes you will find the person did not mean to offend you at all; sometimes you will reach a compromise;  sometimes you will just realize how important it is to forgive and set aside differences for the good of Jesus and the gospel.  After all, what kind of witnesses are we, if we can’t even get along with each other?

I’d like to hear some stories from others.  Have you been in this situation?  How have you handled it?  Maybe I’ll tell you one of my own experiences tomorrow.

God loves you and so do I!

 

The Mind of Christ

“….complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord of one mind.”  2 Philippians 2:2

In this letter to the church in Philippi, a church Paul obviously loves, he tells them that nothing would please him more than knowing they are in agreement, or having the same mind.  Then he goes on to tell them exactly whose mind they are to have– not their own but Christ’s!

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  Philippians 2:5-8

The mind of Christ means having a humble spirit, willing to sacrifice for others.  Paul explains further that being of one mind with Christ means they will:

“Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit” Philippians 2:3

“look…to the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:4

“in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  Philippians 2:3

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we were all in our right mind (Christ’s)?

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A Prayer for Unity

I discovered this prayer for the unity of the church on a website for the Church of England. I hope you like it as much as I do.

These prayers may take place around a unity candle, the font or some other symbol of the Church.

Jesus prayed that his followers may all be one.
In the power of the Spirit, we join our prayers with his.

The following may be used

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace:
give us grace seriously to lay to heart
the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.
Take away all hatred and prejudice,
and whatever else may hinder us
from godly union and concord;
that, as there is but one body and one Spirit,
one hope of our calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of us all,
so we may henceforth be all of one heart and of one soul,
united in one holy bond of peace, of faith and charity,
and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

I am the vine and you are the branches.
All: Abide in me as I abide in you.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
All: Abide in me as I abide in you.

No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
All: Abide in me as I abide in you.

You are my friends if you do what I command you;
love one another as I have loved you.
All: Abide in me as I abide in you.

Intercessions are offered for the unity of the Church.

This response may be used

Lord of the Church
All: hear your people’s prayer.

Silence may be kept.

This Collect is said.

Lord Jesus Christ,
who said to your apostles,
‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you’:
look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church
and grant it the peace and unity of your kingdom;
where you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
All: Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer is said.

The peace of the Lord be always with you
All: and also with you.

These words may be added

Let us offer one another a sign of peace,
God’s seal on our prayers for the Unity of the Church

Unity Not Uniformity

In all our posting about unity, one thing is becoming clear to me:  Christian unity does not mean uniformity.  In marriage, in the church,  even in the trinity, each part retains its own character and qualities;  uniqueness is not lost or swallowed up.  Instead, the individual parts together form something more than they are alone.

Maybe this relates to our different Christian denominations.  My husband’s theory is that denominations are a gift, not a curse.  Each tradition emphasizes different aspects of the faith.  Some are very focused on the sacraments, others on missionary outreach, still others on holy living or manifestations of the Holy Spirit, and so on.  We’re all probably wrong about some things, but we each have a place in spreading and maintaining the faith. We each appeal to or speak to different personalities;  we can fulfill different needs. There are many things we can get together and do, and then there will be points where we have to differ and part.  That’s okay.

There are a few things we do need to agree on.  Paul described the fundamentals to the church in Ephesus this way:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”  Ephesians 4:4-6

As long as Christ is our head, we are part of the body.  As long as the triune God is our Father, we are brothers and sisters.  As long as the Holy Spirit calls us, we can serve together.  We don’t have to be the same to be one.

An Image of the Trinity

Image result for rublev's trinity imagesThis icon of the Holy Trinity was painted by the monk Andrei Rublev.  It depicts the three visitors to Abraham, each angel symbolizing one of the persons of the trinity.  When you look closely, you will notice that each figure wears different garments, but has the same face.  Many comment on the feeling of invitation and inclusion experienced as you spend time gazing at this beautiful image.  I have a number of icons, and this is definitely my favorite.  It gives me a sense of peace and light.

Here’s a quote about this icon from Henri Nouwen’s book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord.

“During a hard period of my life in which verbal prayer had become nearly impossible and during which mental and emotional fatigue had made me the easy victim of feelings of despair and fear, a loving and quiet presence to this icon became the beginning of my healing.  As I sat for long hours in front of Rublev’s Trinity, I noticed how gradually my gaze became a prayer.  This silent prayer made my inner restlessness melt away and lifted me up into the circle of love, a circle that could nt be broken by the powers of the world.  Even as I moved away from the icon and became involved in the many tasks of everyday life, I felt as if I did not have to leave the holy place I had found and could dwell there whatever I did or wherever I went.”

Is there a Christian painting or work of art that has affected you deeply?  If so, please comment and tell us about it.

Lutherans Explain the Trinity

The trinity is a mystery that as humans we will never fully grasp.  I found this explanation on a website about Lutheran Confirmation that does help show how Lutherans think about the it.  I remember our Pastor used the ice, water, steam analogy during the confirmation classes our daughters attended.  Readers, how do you understand the trinity?

Explaining The Trinity

How do we explain the Doctrine of the Trinity? The following are often used to explain the Trinity.

1) Triangle: Like God, a triangle has three sides. Yet it is only one triangle. This is the most common explanation of the Trinity and is often depicted as the following diagram.

2) Water: Like God, water has three forms–ice, water and steam. 

3) Math: 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. Each person of God is like the “1”–fully God, yet separate.

Ultimately, all of these analogies fail. Why? Because we cannot describe God, who is greater than all of creation, with humble elements within His creation. Christian Theologians have sought to explain this doctrine for hundreds of years. Yet, it still remains outside of our complete understanding. 

Achieving Unity

” And all who believed came together and had all things in common;  and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

I’ve already mentioned that unity doesn’t happen in a day;  it’s a process.  The early Christians worshipped, ate and praised God together.  They shared one another’s lives.  They cared about each other. They were willing to make sacrifices for the congregation.  This made their fellowship so attractive to others that they wanted to be a part of it.

You may join a congregation by coming to church on Sunday and/or standing up front and professing your desire to be a member.  However, true unity comes from day-to-day working and serving together, having fun together, sharing stories and lives.  It comes from seeing children grow up and older people die.  It comes from being willing to contribute your time, talent and yes, even money to support and nurture the group.  It means sticking in there to resolve problems and disagreements, instead of walking away.

Of course, these days it’s rare to belong to the same church for your whole life.  There are times when we must change because we move.  There may be times when we are called to leave our congregation to serve elsewhere.  Maybe there are even times when our doctrinal positions become so far apart that leaving is the only option.  When this happens, though, I believe we should join into our new church home with vigor and commitment.  We can’t achieve unity without doing our part.

“…and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  Hebrews 10:24-25

I would like to hear from our readers and other authors.  Do you feel unity with your congregation?  What had led to that unity for you?

 

Through the Generations

“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”  Psalm 145:4

There’s another type of unity in the church we haven’t discussed yet, and that is the unity between the Church Triumphant (the saints in Heaven) and the Church Militant (those of us still fighting the battle here on Earth).  In case you are wondering, when Lutherans say “saint” it does not refer to certain particularly holy people:  we believe all Christians are both saint and sinner.

It is our responsibility to pass the faith on to the next generation.  In the founding documents of our church (St. Paul’s Free Lutheran of Leitersburg, Md) our forbears expressed the desire that their children would remain true to the evangelical faith and confessions of the church and would pass it on to succeeding generations in the community.  That’s been going on for 190 years now.  Those of us at St. Paul’s may not be physical descendants of those charter members, but we are certainly their spiritual descendants.  When I worship in our old sanctuary, my voice and my prayers are joined with theirs.  I can feel that unity.  Some Orthodox churches feature paintings of saints on the columns and ceiling of the church:  a reminder that those who went before are still with us.

In our Lutheran communion service we say “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your name” …another important reminder that our fellowship includes those who have gone before us.  We may not think about it often, but we should.  It’s a source of peaceful strength.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2

Who are your witnesses?  Who are you witnessing to?  Please send us your stories.

It Takes Time

There was a recent article in our local newspaper, featuring a couple who had been married 74 years!  Wow, what an accomplishment!  My husband and I have a long way to go to top that (we’re babies at 45 years of wedded bliss).  It made think about how unity grows over time.  Yes, there is probably an instant attraction and feeling of compatibility, but over time two people work together, learn how to complement each other, come to understand one another more and more, until finally the union becomes so complete that it’s hard to imagine life alone.  When my husband is gone for a few days, I start to feel uncomfortable.  My routines are disrupted;  there are things I want to share or ask.  Life just isn’t right.  When he’s teaching Bible Study, I’ll make a comment or ask a question and he’ll say …”You’re jumping ahead….I’m getting to that very topic …in a minute…”  We’ve trained our brains until we think along the same lines.  Of course, we’re don’t always agree.  He supplies the logic, I supply the feelings.  We complement one another, and have come to rely upon the other in areas where we are weak.  We’ve had to adjust who does what chore depending upon both personal preference, and time and job constraints.  We’ve balanced two careers, two children, and two large extended families as well as we could.  It’s been quite an journey and it’s not over yet.

I’m sure everyone won’t agree, but I think our union with Christ and His church grows, too.  There is often an original event — for many of us it is our baptism, but it can be one of those “aha” moments when we realize that God has taken hold of us, and we’re His for good.  Like our marriage, we start to do things together:  we pray, study His word, worship and sing.  We become active in the church, we use our gifts, we serve Him with others.  We learn what we’re good at, and where we need help.  We understand more and more until we can’t imagine life without Jesus and the family of God anymore than we can imagine life without our spouse.  In fact, as much as I love and depend upon my husband, I love and depend upon Jesus even more.  Lutherans call this journey sanctification, and it’s never complete in this life.

So readers, what do you think?  Does unity happen like a clap of thunder, or with a process of continuing cultivation?  Or both?  I’s like to hear your thoughts.