In Christ… Together

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Have you ever had to write a letter from a prison cell? I haven’t, but I think – no, I’m certain – if I did, it would include whining, pitifulness, more whining, sad faces, and a big helping of extra-whiny on top just for good measure. That’s not what we find in the Letter to the Ephesians, though.

It’s debated who actually authored the letter, but if it was the apostle Paul (as many believe it was), then he would’ve written it while imprisoned in Rome. However, Paul didn’t spend even one sentence wallowing in self-pity about his situation. Rather, he was laser focused on reminding Christians of everything God had done for them and, in turn, how they should live their lives in light of those gifts. No matter he was in prison… Paul had a mission. And nothing would get in his way.

The letter begins in remembrance, thankfulness, and praise:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  (Ephesians 1:3-6 NRSV)

In these three short verses, Paul praises God for:

  • Spiritually blessing us in Christ
  • Freely and by grace alone choosing us to be made one in Christ
  • Viewing us as holy and blameless when we stand before him in love
  • Adopting us as his own children through Christ, his Beloved

Throughout these verses (and as we’ll see, the entire letter), Paul repeatedly emphasizes that we – corporately, not individually – are one body in Christ. As Klyne Snodgrass states in The NIV Commentary on Ephesians, Paul uses the specific terminology ‘in Christ’ as a way to talk about Jesus as our Lord. A believer’s life merges into the life of Christ (and all other believers) to become one body of which Jesus is the head. It is ‘in Christ’ that we find our salvation and spiritual blessings. It is ‘in Christ’ that we are at home.

We can’t help but give praise and thanks to God as we’re reminded that he chose to reveal his love to us by his grace shown through his Son Jesus and his gift of the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence. Paul’s theology emphasizes our blessing as one body and reminds us that corporate worship is essential to our life in Christ, who lives in constant relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit; therefore, we are to live in loving relationship with others – a relationship we will examine in detail as we move further into the Letter to the Ephesians.

As One

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 “Awesome!”

That was a co-worker’s assessment of his day so far – and it was only 8:30 am! For him, every day lately has been Awesome! because it brings him one day closer to his wedding day. His walk, his talk… everything about him says, I cannot wait to marry her!  As I watched him float down the hallway back to his desk, I thought of my own wedding day… fourteen years ago.

My husband and I say it sometimes feels like fourteen days, other times like forty years, but either way, neither of us can remember the last time we told a story starting with “I” instead of “we.”  And, we are okay with that! Fourteen years later and we still say “I love you” countless times a day. We pride ourselves on our ability to sicken those around us with our googly eyes and mutual admiration. We still kiss each other goodnight – every night.

Don’t get the impression, though, that my hubby and I have led a charmed life together. We haven’t. Money worries, kid rebellions, job stress… You name it, and we have most likely fretted and fought with it or wrestled and struggled over it. Major move? Did it. Go back to college? Did that too. (Twice.) Depression? Lived through it. (More than twice.) Hospitals? Know more than we care to. Death? Unfortunately, yes. We’ve both lost someone we deeply loved.

The past fourteen years haven’t been absent of heartache; but, they haven’t been absent of blessings either. Through both, there has never been any question in either of our minds about the depth and commitment of our love. Life has thrown us for a loop sometimes, but we have never – not once – lost an ounce of our love for each other because of ill circumstances. Likewise, we can’t say that we’ve loved each other more simply because life was treating us well.  The measure of our love hasn’t fluctuated with our situation – good or bad.

Marriage made us one through love, and it has blessed us with a small glimpse of God’s larger plan for the world.

[F]or God is love… if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us (1 John 4:8-12 NRSV). God is present wherever steadfast love abides. I believe the love shared by two people who choose to marry is nothing short of the presence of God on Earth. Such love is not intended to live in isolation. God’s love is meant to be perfected in us as we steadfastly love those near to us and far from us, for we are all one in his love. This was Jesus’ request when he prayed to the Father in the hours leading up to his arrest:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me…. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17: 20-23, 25-26)

I view the marriage of two people who pledge to love each other through thick and thin as a celebration of the marriage that is to come between God and his church. When all the members of the church’s body are joined together with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – that they may become completely one – there will be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready…” (Rev 19:6-7)

 

“God, grant that the bonds of our common humanity, by which all your children are united one to another, and the living to the dead, may be so transformed by your grace, that your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven; where, O Father, with your Son, and the Holy Spirit, you live and reign in perfect unity, now and forever.  Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer)

5 AM Theology

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Since the recent passing of a beloved Christian writer, a lot has been written in articles, blogs, and opinion columns about her theology, both in agreement and dissent. Her passing—and particularly the ensuing battle of beliefs—has led me to take a long look at my own theology, my own religious practices, and try to articulate the framework I operate in when I conceive of and talk about God. I’ve also reached the end of my Master’s coursework in theological studies. All combined, I’ve had a few things to think about lately.

My brain has been busily pulling out aspects of Christianity and sorting them into piles of “yeah, I believe that” and “no, I can’t go there.” It’s a healthy exercise, if tiring, and it’s one that everyone probably needs to do every few years. Like author Sarah Bessey says, “If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention.”

I believe in a Holy Trinitarian God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three entities in perfect union with each other, mysteriously one. There are days, however, when I don’t believe God is triune. Honestly, some days it feels more like an idea cooked up by the Church Fathers than something revealed in Scripture. But as strange as it sounds, and as much Scripture and as many theological rabbit holes I have to dive into for a full explanation, I always return to an acceptance of God as three in one.

I do not believe God is male. I did, however, grow up in a church where God was referred to using only male pronouns and that is how I formed a vision of my relationship with God. I am not opposed to using the female pronouns to refer to God, I simply choose not to use them myself (as you’ve probably noticed). I am also not opposed to the neutral “Godself.” As with most things, I believe everyone should use whatever pronoun they’re most comfortable with when they speak of God. I choose to use male pronouns. Don’t hate me for it.

And don’t think it means I’m a complementarian. I do not believe God forbids women to preach to men in the church, be it from the pulpit or on the front steps. I’ve met too many women called by God to do both things.  In much the same way, I’ve met too many LGBTQ people who were called to preach for me to ever say that God doesn’t want them in the pulpit. People who are truly called to serve God–no matter who or where they are–will live out that call to God’s glory, and not for my (or anyone else’s) worldly approval.

I believe in Scripture. I believe that God inspired the writers of works included in the Bible and because of that, it should be viewed as holy. I believe the writers of Scripture wrote from Godly inspiration, but I also believe their writings reflect their distinctly male experience in an ancient society as part of a patriarchal culture. Holy? Most assuredly.  Completely devoid of gender and cultural biases? Um, no.

I believe Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection were an act of salvific grace. I believe if I have genuine faith in God, Jesus, and the Spirit, I will show that faith through my actions. I do not believe that I will never act wrongly or badly, nor do I believe I can complete any activities to earn my forgiveness. My forgiveness was given through the death and resurrection of Christ. If there was anything I could do to earn God’s grace or lose God’s grace, then the death of Jesus on the cross was pointless.

I believe God longs for human beings to choose to live in love and peace with each other, and we’ve chosen the path of hatred and war instead. I believe God longs for a relationship with us, but he wants us to freely choose him. God doesn’t want us to love him because he’s our Father or because we think we’re supposed to; he wants us to love him because we feel love in our hearts for him.

Which is what all of this boils down to for me, really:  God is love. God is grace. God is forgiveness. God is relationship. Jesus said the two most important commandments were to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. He didn’t give any exceptions to those two commandments.  And he most certainly did not say for us to love the sinner, but hate the sin.

He didn’t.  He didn’t have to issue any qualifiers like that because he knew ALL were going to continue to sin in thought or action, in one way or another, big or small. In my church, we acknowledge that fact every time we come to the table for the Eucharist when we pray:  Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We haven’t done your will, we’ve broken your law, rebelled against your love, not loved our neighbors, and ignored the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray.

I believe God tells us to just love people the best we can.  Let him be concerned with their (and our) sinful nature and need for forgiveness.  Just love him and each other well.

My theology is actually pretty simple:  Look around you. If it isn’t of love, it isn’t of God. So try to leave everything with a little more love.

 

Want me to write more about these or other topics? Drop me a note in the comments, and we’ll see what happens!

Lent – Day 29

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Today’s Thought: Grief.

In his anguish [Jesus] prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief. (Luke 22:44-45)

This scripture from Luke takes an honest look at suffering. The suffering Jesus felt—in all his humanness—at the thought of what he would go through on the cross. The anguish the disciples felt after hearing Jesus speak repeatedly of his impending death. Jesus was their Messiah, their King, and his death wasn’t part of the future kingdom they’d hoped for. Jesus found them sleeping because of grief. If you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep, you know the depth of the disciples’ sorrow.

Everyone grieves, but no one wants to talk about it. And because we try to ignore it, we never know how to handle it when grief hits us or someone else. I’ve had my own opportunities to sit with grief and the well-intentioned (but often poorly-worded) sentiments of those who don’t know what to say or do, but who want to make everything better. The thing is, grief doesn’t work that way.

Many years ago, a good friend of mine drove me home from the hospital following a 15-hour day spent waiting for my youngest child to come out of a difficult surgery. I vividly remember the two of us sitting on my living room floor eating pizza from a box, my friend reminding me to take a bite in between bouts of crying and spewing out everything I was afraid of and angry about because of overpowering, breathtaking grief. I don’t remember her asking a lot of questions or giving me any earth-shattering insight or advice. I do remember her giving me food and making sure I slept. I remember her presence.

What can you do to help the grieving? Stay close while they swim in those deep, murky waters, and don’t worry about saying wise things–they can’t really hear you under there anyway. Then, when they’re ready to crawl out on dry land again, be there with a towel (and maybe a pizza). Just be there.

Monday Meditation: The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

 

 

Lent – Day 28

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Today’s Thought: You’re pregnant!

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. (Colossians 3:10 NLT)

Congratulations! Bet you weren’t expecting to hear that this morning, were you! One of my sweet nieces just received news that she, her husband, and son will be welcoming a baby girl in August. New babies are so exciting! Anticipation like no other builds over the course of a short nine months as we wonder what this new life holds. What will her personality be like? Whose eyes will she have? How will her existence impact the people around her and the world beyond these walls of home?

But, back to you. You’re pregnant too! Yes, yes, YES you are! The question is, what are you pregnant with? Is it compassion? Perhaps even empathy? Is it happiness? Or, maybe—unfortunately—the heaviness of sadness is filling you in this season of your life. Maybe you’re full of questions, like “why?”

My niece doesn’t have to tell anyone she’s pregnant; it’s obvious, and not just because she has a growing tummy. From Day 1, she has radiated love and kindness. Mostly because she was already ‘pregnant’ with those qualities before she became pregnant with her baby girl.

What pregnancy news are you sharing with everyone around you? What has filled you, your life, your soul, to the point that everyone knows you’re pregnant with it before you ever say a word?

Think about it.  And have a gloriously ‘pregnant’ weekend filled with life overflowing!

 

Saturday’s Scripture-in-Sync

Old Testament: And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

New Testament: I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)

 

Lent – Day 23

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Today’s Thought: What might the life of Jesus tell us about the nature of God?

For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:4-5)

As we read the first few chapters of the Gospel of Mark, it becomes obvious that the Pharisees and scribes are not handling Jesus’s presence well—mainly because he doesn’t seem interested in following their well-established religious rules and traditions. Mark’s narrative moves quickly as he lists one example after another of Jesus asserting his authority, just to have it questioned. Now, in Mark 2:18-22, he faces more questioning from the crowds of people following him.

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Lent – Day 19

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Today’s Thought: What does it mean to be “holy”?

Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  (1 Peter 1:14-16)

In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter echoes God’s words from Leviticus 11:44, cautioning new believers about the unwanted desires they had before choosing to follow Christ. Their behavior was conformed to those desires out of ignorance, he says. Now, they are called to be different, to set themselves apart… to make themselves “holy” like God. So, what does it mean to be “holy”? Well… that’s sort of a trick question…

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Lent – Day 18

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Today’s Thought: Do you realize how much God misses you?

But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him…. “[L]et us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ (Luke 15:20, 23-24)

In Chapter 15, Luke records not one, but three parables told by Jesus in an attempt to convey just how very much we are loved by the Father. While most of us are familiar with the story of the prodigal son, we may not be nearly as acquainted with the two immediately preceding stories: the lost sheep and the lost coin. Taken together, these parables form an image of God whose love for us is almost beyond comprehension.

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Lent – Day 15

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Today’s Thought:  Are you ready to say, “Not my will but yours be done” … and mean it?

It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20)

This week, we’ve read how Jesus’s humanity has shown itself during times of frustration and exhaustion, as we’ve wrestled to understand the context and meaning of words that don’t ‘sound like’ Jesus. He has described his message as being divisive, as well as one reserved first for Jews in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Today, in Luke 14, Jesus challenges our assumptions again… this time by asking our willingness to pay the price of discipleship.

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Lent – Day 13

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Today’s Thought: What do I worship more than God?

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3)

In The Letter of James, addressed to the twelve tribes of the dispersion, the author reflects frustration similar to what we read yesterday in Luke. James (generally identified here as the brother of Jesus) is trying to bring the early church together in serving God, but their personal wants and desires are getting in the way. James fears for their relationship with God, as well as the future of the church, and he doesn’t hold back in his letter.

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