Assignment … Chapter 31

assignment_icon This week we’ll be reading the story of the end times.  That’s Chapter 31: The End of Time.  For those reading along in your own Bible, the reference is: Revelation 1-519-22. Look for this week’s reflection/s on Monday Morning.  In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here.  Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory



Worthy of the Call

Worthy of the Call

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Extremely powerful words, both to the church in Ephesus and to us. Even from the depravity of prison, Paul calls us to live a life worthy of the call God has put upon us. This passage is a common charge and benediction at the end of a worship service. The words are familiar, eloquent, and inspiring. There is a part of me that reads these words and waits for the inner choral response … “A-men, a-men, a-a-a-a-men.” The danger of using great passages of scripture as liturgy is that the meaning becomes more about the ritual of saying or hearing the words than in the words themselves. These words, for instance, are often heard as a dismissal, but they’re not just nice words to finish the service. They are spoken from a deep passion and urgency … They are a vision, a hope, and a caution. Don’t let the fight, the hard work, the mission of the Church lead you to be less than you had hoped you would be or less than Christ deserves.

As the “called out” body of Christ we are to be humble and gentle, patient and loving. When faced with persecution and harassment like the early church experienced … it’s easy to fight among ourselves over who’s more “right” and who knows better. It’s hard to be patient when we’re tired and scared, and our colleagues are on death row. It’s hard to be loving when our own people turn against us.

I see that. Our church members aren’t faced with imprisonment or martyrdom, but many Presbyterians are still scared and impatient. I know I am. Congregations are facing huge challenges for survival, and when we struggle to survive we don’t always “play nice.” Churches experiencing financial, leadership and membership challenges may find they also experience more conflict and crisis.

Some of us are heading to our national General Assembly in a few weeks, and our commissioners are already being lobbied to vote “in favor of …” or “against … ” Some are afraid of the most “controversial” issues: gay marriage and our policies on the Middle East. Others try to please everyone with compromises. We label each other as “liberal” or “conservative” or “evangelical” or “progressive.” We make friends with those who think as we do and put down those who see things differently. We argue, “it’s a justice issue” “it’s about love” “it’s what the Bible says” “it’s unnatural” “It kills people” “we need to send a clear message” “it’ll harm our relationship with …” “it won’t change anything” or “it’ll change everything.”

Paul tells us when it comes to the mission of Christ we are to keep up the race, to persevere, to keep on … but to do so in love. Always in love. It’s not just about getting the job done, it’s about living a life worthy of our call. Integrity, humility, kindness, compassion … this speaks louder than any fancy politicking. Remember it’s Christ we’re serving … the same Christ … there is unity of Spirit in Christ.

Our church and our world are polarized into us and them, the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, the smart and the dumb, the educated and the ignorant, the reasonable and the unreasonable … but there is a common source of life and hope in Jesus Christ. So remain humble and patient, be gentle and focus on peace. In the end it’s about the quality of our lives, not the results of our voting. There is love which binds us together. That love is over all and through all and in all.

Assignment … Chapter 30

assignment_icon This week we’ll be continuing the story of Paul.  That’s Chapter 30: Paul’s Final Days.  For those reading along in your own Bible, the reference is: Acts 20-2327-28Ephesians 1-6; 2 Timothy 1-4. Look for this week’s reflection/s on Monday Morning.  In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here.  Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory.


If This is Tuesday …

If This is Tuesday …

pjbigYears ago, when I was still a candidate for ministry under care of the Presbytery of Western New York, I was asked in an interview: who is your favorite Bible character?  I answered Paul.  He is the one who give shape to the Christology on which the church is built.  He’s the one who takes the good news and gives it form and function.  He’s the one who interprets salvation through Christ, not only for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well.  Paul has the knowledge, education, and status to bring the message of Jesus to people throughout the Greek and Roman world.

I am writing this post on the first night of my final (third) annual week of training and community with new presbytery leaders in the PCUSA.  During my first week of training (two years ago) our morning Bible Study considered the parallels between presbytery leader (or executive/general presbyter) work and the work of the Apostle Paul.  The ways in which he cares for the Christian communities … churches … in the cities he visited and kept contact with is similar to the kinds of work we do.  That is true, Paul was a preacher, a teacher, a writer, a motivator, a politician, a peacemaker, a conflict mediator, an applied theologian, an organizer, a mentor, a pastor, a healer, and a tent maker.   He was a Greek and Roman citizen as well as a Jew.  He knew how to get things done and was a great reader of people.  But today I’m most interested in the steadfastness, passion, and spontaneity of his mission.  He had a plan, but he was free to change it.  He listened to the leading of the Holy Spirit in his work.

Mostly, Paul was on the road.  He was on the lecture circuit, the traveling evangelist, the missionary sent to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Like any frequent traveler, Paul visited so many places, he had stories to tell … of the times he was locked up, the times he ate with this one or that one, the time he told the demons to leave the slave girl, the time …

This week, though, I was struck by the times Paul decided to stay in one place for awhile.

At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.(Acts 14:1-3 NIV)

Paul went to see them,and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them … So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.  (Acts 18:3, 11)

75_d__0_IfItsTuesdayThisMustBeBelgiumWith all the traveling I’ve been doing these few weeks, I’m wondering if Paul ever woke up at night in a strange room, with sounds of strangers in the room above, wondering where he was, or what the itinerary was for today.  I don’t get the sense, though, that Paul had the “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” head spinning.  I get the sense Paul was attentive, highly attentive, to the people, the context, the work … he stayed for as long as it took, and he left when the mission was no longer being served.

What is your passion and mission in life?  Do you go where you are called, and stay when you are needed?  How do you know where and to whom the Spirit is calling you?

Worldly Ways

Worldly Ways

Whenever I read the writings of Paul, I’m always struck by the tensions present. Between The Law and Grace. Between everyone keeping their proper place, and disrupting the social order of slave vs free, man vs woman, Greek vs Roman vs Jew. In the world, but not of the world. It was the last that struck me particularly this week. In First Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul writes:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?

Paul is faulting the Corinthians for their worldliness, calling it a sign of spiritual immaturity. Later, In 1 Corinthians 5:1, he states

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people

That all sounds like familiar Pauline stuff. But immediately after that lines comes 1 Corinthians 5:2

not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.

I don’t remember ever seeing that second half of the admonition before. Paul is telling the church to hold themselves to a high standard, but, at the same time, telling them that they are not to separate themselves from the rest of the world. And, if the point wasn’t clear enough, Paul goes on in verse 12:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?

The words of Paul have been used by the church over and over again to judge. To point out the failings of others. Yet Paul himself is clearly saying that this isn’t the right way to go about things. Paul was all about reaching the whole world with the Gospel. Maybe we, as the church, need to listen more to that message. Not to get caught up in the minutia of specific instructions to specific people and churches, but to focus on spreading that Good News to the world.

Assignment … Chapter 29

assignment_icon This week we’ll be reading the story of the apostle Paul.  That’s Chapter 29: The End of Time.  For those reading along in your own Bible, the reference is: Acts 13-1416-20Romans 13-6812151 Corinthians 135-61012-1315-16Galatians 135-61 Thessalonians 1-5. Look for this week’s reflection/s on Monday Morning.  In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here.  Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory.