Where is your identity found?

We live in strange and awful times.

Wars abroad, divisions at home, a global pandemic in its second year, and more vitriol spewed on social media than pictures of kittens and bad puns combined. People are quick to speak, slow to listen, and adept at jumping to conclusions based on incomplete information.

And that’s just in the Church.

Why are we in such a hurry to defend ourselves and our positions about every social issue within the context of the Body of Christ? Why do we argue over vaccines and masks? Why do we separate ourselves into political camps? Why do we categorize our brothers and sisters as “other” based on how they look, think, or act?

And why do we usually do that behind a screen instead of engaging in conversations and dialogue designed to promote understanding and unity?

I contend that one reason we divide comes in how we perceive our own identities.

Who are you? Our current culture says that our individual identities are found in intersections of oppressions or oppressings. According to the rules of societal engagement, you are either oppressor or oppressed. Oppressors must rid themselves of every hint of historical wrongdoing; the oppressed must rise up and ensure the oppressors are re-educated and replaced. The issue with this worldview is that it ignores the fact that we are all sinners, desperately broken, and in need of redemption. There is no doubt that there is a historical record of wrongs done by one group of people to another group; the practice is the natural state of humankind and continues all over the world to this day. No revolution, no education, no secular state has been able to overcome the desire for power that is inherent in the prideful heart of people. Nor is it possible for that to be accomplished in the human dimension. Humans will ALWAYS default to us versus them. Utopia is a myth.

Reality is that the human condition is irreparably damaged by sin. Every person who has ever lived is broken. Our identity is not found in intersections, nor is it found in groups. Intersections of oppression create an illusion intended to cover personal sin. Groups serve only to divide into us and them. But there is hope in a new identity that restores broken people. Paul observed, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believed in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 ESV). Paul was both oppressed as a Jew, even though he was a citizen of Rome, and oppressor as a well-educated Pharisee who persecuted followers of Jesus. Paul, then, might represent each of us, regardless of how society has labeled us. Paul rejected the labels of his culture and embraced the mercy of Jesus.

When we embrace the mercy of Jesus, we are adopted as the children of God. No matter what this broken culture says, we can throw off the politics of identity by claiming the inheritance that begins with forgiveness and continues with the riches of God’s grace, poured over us with all wisdom and understanding according to His good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5-6). We are Christ’s, sons and daughters of the Most High, justified by faith alone. As sons and daughters, we are also brothers and sisters, members of one family. Each of us has put on Christ, and in doing so, we have entered into a new identity, one where “there is neither slave nor free” we are ONE in Jesus (Galatians 3:23-29; Colossians 3:11).

If, then, we are one in Jesus, how can we continue to participate in arguments over things of this earth? This world is not our home; we have an eternal promise, a citizenship in heaven. Any glory of this world is the worst kind of dust compared to the kingdom that is to come (Philippians 3:8). Instead of turning against each other, quibbling over things that are meaningless in the scope of eternity, let us look ahead, together, standing side by side as we work out our salvation, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-20; John 14:1-6). We are a family, not competitors in a cultural debate over which group is “right.” We need to imitate our Father, not the current culture. As a family, we put on love above everything else, because love unites us (Colossians 3: 14).

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

How to please the Lord 101

How to please the Lord 101: Love God, love people. There is nothing complicated about what God wants his children to do. He says it over and over in every book of the Bible. Jesus himself summed up the commandments in two sentences: Love the Lord your God will your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).

What does it look like to love the Lord with everything you have? It looks like loving others. It looks like true judgments, showing kindness, and offering mercy. Zechariah says it in chapter 7, verse 9. Micah says it in chapter 6 verse 8. Paul wrote in Romans 12 that believers should outdo one another in showing honor, and how else do we do that but by true judgement, kindness, and mercy?

To the Galatians, Paul wrote “through love serve one another.” To the Ephesians he instructed believers to bear with one another. To the Thessalonians he admonished the fellowship to increase and abound in love for one another because that is what they had been taught.

The author of Hebrews and Peter and John all emphasized the importance of loving one another the same way that the Father loves us.

James wrote that faith without works is dead. It might be equally said that loving God without loving others is הֶבֶל (hebel), a vapor, nonsense, or foolishness, what King Solomon called “Vanity of vanities.” Love for God isn’t real unless it is demonstrated by loving one another through justice, kindness, mercy, and humility.

Love isn’t complicated, but it isn’t easy, either. We are human. We have annoying habits. We have strongly held differences of opinion. We interpret Scripture differently. Our experiences vary, our cultures conflict, and our expectations of how things should be often sit in opposition. In the US, the differences between us have been amplified in 2020 and 2021 by a pandemic (and how people should respond to it), racial strife (and how government should mitigate it), and disasters, both nature and human-caused. Human nature lashes out and social media makes it convenient to insist on being right instead of being unified. We must carefully consider not only what we say, but how we say it. Love is quick to listen. Love pursues goodness and truth. Love judges the self truly so that each one might be humble. In humility we act out our love for God by showing kindness and mercy to our brothers and sisters, just as the Lord commanded.

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

If God demonstrated His love for us by sending His only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, how much more ought we demonstrate our love for God by loving one another in right judgements, showing mercy, and being kind?

Taste and see: Part five

The Lord is good

John 15:1-8; Psalm 34:8; 1 John 4:7-17; Galatians 5:22-23

The late 1960s were tumultuous times in the US. Not unlike today, there were protests and riots over political statements, racism, sexuality, and the role of the Church in society. In that chaos, Peter Scholtes penned the words to “They’ll know we are Christians,” based on his reading of John 11:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Just in case you need a reminder of the lyrics:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord -  We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand - We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news that God is in our land.
We will work with each other; we will work side by side - We will work with each other; we will work side by side
And we'll guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride.
All praise to the Father from whom all things come and all praise to Christ Jesus, His only Son
And all praise to the Spirit who makes us one.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
And they'll know we are Christians by our love.

For King and Country has a lovely arrangement here.

And it’s true, we should be known by our love for one another. Jesus was clear that all the Law and the Prophets rest on two things: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39.) Love is the foundation upon which we build community, minister to the needy, embrace the hurting, and seek after the lost. Love is the first result of our abiding in the True Vine.

Just as grapes are the basis for all the essential elements of wine, so too, love is the basis for all the characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5 lists the essential elements: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Yes, we are known by our love, but get to know us individually, and our love consists of multiple nuances of grace.

See

The first step in wine tasting is to really look at the wine from all angles. Hold it up to the light. Tilt the glass and look for evidence of boldness and age. Good wine should be clear and brilliant, allowing the light to pass through unhindered by sediment or chemical imbalances.

Spiritually speaking, people should see the ways in which we love one another by how we manifest joy and peace in trying times. How do we respond to others who may offend us: is it with patience and kindness? How do we demonstrate goodness and gentleness to the hurting among us? When non-believers look at us does the light of Jesus shine through?

Swirl

Swirling the glass allows the wine to be agitated. A dense full-bodied wine will leave “legs” running the sides of the glass, whereas a light wine will not. Agitation reveals the believer’s depth as well. We grow more through trials than any other time when we rely on our faith. Jesus said that love is fully demonstrated when we are willing to lay down our lives for each other. He was clear that the world would hate believers because it hated Him (John 15:18). Suffering is part of living in a broken world, but Paul wrote to the Romans that this present suffering is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed when Jesus returns.

Sniff

There are thousands of fragrance combinations in wine. Some, like mustiness or vinegar, indicate that the wine has gone bad. Other aromas indicate the flavors present in the wine and are often linked to terrain, temperature, and other elements of where the grapes were grown, how they were harvested, and how the wine was produced. Floral, herbaceous, and earthy notes recall the growing terroir, while fragrances of smoke, vanilla, chocolate, or coffee are likely from the barrels in which the wine was aged. Gregutt wrote, “The best wine aromas are complex but also balances, specific but also harmonious.”

While it’s never a good idea to go around sniffing other people, there is a pleasing aroma in the air when a Bible-believing, Spirit-filled, Jesus follower is in the room. Christ in us spreads the fragrance of grace and the aroma of knowing Him personally everywhere we go (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

Sip

In the wine-tasting world the sip is the final arbiter of whether a wine is good or spectacular or somewhere in between. An excellent wine is “balanced, harmonious, complex, evolved, and complete” (Gregutt, 2015). Balanced wine means sweetness and sourness work in tandem to create a pleasing flavor. No one flavor should dominate a harmonious wine, and the taste should change even before you swallow, revealing depth and complexity. A truly complete wine leaves the taster satisfied.

In the sermon that inspired this series, Rainey talked about the complex character of the believer: a burst of love, followed by notes of joy and kindness, ending with an essence of goodness. Each of us is made up of all the elements of the Fruit of the Spirit in different proportions, and how we present ourselves in and to the world can either draw people to Jesus or turn people away from His Church. When we abide in Jesus, the fruit we develop becomes our witness to the world as it holds us up to the light. When we let the Light shine through us, we express a desire for everyone to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Good, Gold, or Best in Show

The largest wine competition is the Decanter World Wine Awards. The 170 wine judges tasted more than 18,000 wines over a course of about two weeks. Only Gold metal winners move on to the next tasting, where they may move to platinum. Platinum wines then move up for a final tasting to determine Best in Show. Most wines don’t even make it to the competition, and many of those wines are pretty good. But good is not great. And great doesn’t mean golden. And only one is Best.

There are good people in the world who do pretty good things, but they are still lost. There are good people in the world who do great things, but without Jesus, they are still bound by sin. Doing good and even great things is not enough to meet the demands of a Law that requires perfection. Romans 3:23 is blunt, “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Our attempts at home-made wine will never measure up to Best in Show, no matter how closely we follow the YouTube directions or how much money we spend on grapes. The only measure of Best in Show is Jesus, and we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25). Good people doing good or great things will still stand before the Holy One to make an account for their lives. Every flaw will be exposed. Every false flavor and impure aroma will be revealed. No one will be justified by works apart from faith.

It is for the sake of even those who do good or even golden things that we must continue to live out the Fruit of the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, proclaiming peace by the blood of Christ, unified as one body with grace from above. When we who follow Jesus live out his command to love God and love others, we proclaim to the world:

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!

 I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
 Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
    and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 34:1-8

References

(2021, June 11). What am I tasting? Wine Spectator.

Gregutt, P. (2015) How to taste wine. Wine Enthusiast.

Hymnary.org (n.d.) Peter Scholtes.

Mason, O. (2021, June 25). Photo highlights: Decanter World Wine Awards 2021 judging weeks. Decanter.

Images

Collage elements from Digidesign Resort and my own design library

Taste and see: Part four

Tasting: The perfection of the fruit

John 15:1-8; Galatians 5:22; 1 John 4:7-17

Taste

Just a few days ago, Wine Spectator posted a “wine IQ” blind tasting game on their website. It posted a sommelier’s tasting notes and asked players to identify the variety, country/region of origin/appellation, and age based solely on the notes.

Tasting Note: Fresh and juicy, with good cut to the red currant and dried berry flavors that feature bright minerality. Ends with a creamy, well-spiced finish, with notes of dried green herbs.

Wine Spectator, June 11, 2021

Would you believe I got 3 of the four correct? And I almost selected Sierra Foothills instead of Sonoma County. The other correct answers: It is a California Merlot, 3-5 years old. But how was I able to identify any of the elements correctly? Let me explain.

The descriptors of “fresh and juicy” and “red currant and dried berries” told me it was a lighter wine. The options were Carignan, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Zinfandel. I’ve never heard of a Tempranillo, but I do know that Syrah is usually pretty “big,” with strong flavors, not “fresh and juicy.” Zinfandel is usually kind of peppery. Carignan is not very common, so that left Merlot, a variety I happen to like now and then. It’s not too sweet, not too heavy, and pairs well with lots of meals.

California produces Merlot wines all over the state, so I opted for that instead of choosing from Australia, France, Spain, or Washington. I may be wrong, but I associate Australia with bolder flavors, Spain with bigger wines, and Washington State with lighter, sweeter wines like Pinot Noir. There were only two appellations in California among the options, and I chose the wrong one. In retrospect, I should have gone with my gut because of the “notes of dried green herbs.” As for the age of the wine, “fresh” is usually attributed to younger wines, so that gave me 1-2 years or 3-5 years. Straight up guessed that one.

Fruit

Because wine is a product from grapes, it should always have some kind of fruit in the description. If the fruit is missing, you no longer have wine; you have vinegar. The Wine Spectator game is a regular feature. Some of the other descriptions include things like “cranberry core,” “apple and pear,” and “lemongrass, passion fruit, and Key lime.” Those essences of fruit are directly related to everything that has preceded the first taste, from the choice of terrain for the vineyard, the weather, the time of harvest, the processing, the aging, the bottling, and the storing. Every decision made by the wine-maker is captured in that first moment of release. As Jesus-followers, our fruit is revealed in first impressions as well. Jesus said that we can bear much fruit when we abide in Him. He prunes and nourishes us, and when we acquiesce to His work in us, the Holy Spirit infuses us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

As with wine, the fruit of the Spirit is complex, and even though the elements are the same, the way in which the essences manifest varies from believer to believer. Some people exude joy, while others are models of self-control. It is not that every Jesus follower is the same, but that the Spirit infuses each one with a unique combination of elements represented in that one Fruit of the Spirit. Above all, though, love must dominate. It is the first note, and the one on which all the others are measured.

See and Swirl

Sommeliers are professional wine stewards who spend years perfecting their senses of smell and taste so they can identify wines that will pair well with food. Only 269 people in the world have earned the title of Master Sommelier; the three part exam has been called the most difficult in the world because it requires demonstration of technique, palate, and theory across three days.

Of course, it is possible for the non-sommelier to have an educated opinion about a wine, especially if conditions of tasting are good: not too hot, not too cold, proper glass, and no outside odors (somehow even creating that list feels more than a little pretentious, but bear with me for now.)

The first evaluation is by sight. What colors are in the wine? Red is a color, yes, but it doesn’t actually say much. Look deeper. Is it a deep blue-purple red with gold tones as you hold it to the light? Is it more filled with shades of pink or bright ruby? Or, if you happen to be looking at a white wine, is is more translucent yellow or deep gold? The color will give you an idea of what to expect from the tasting; the richer the color, the bolder the flavor.

What do people see when they look at you? Do they see your joy? Your peace? Maybe your kindness? The color of your love is visible when you abide in Jesus. You present yourself as a reflection of God’s goodness with your countenance. Moses reflected the glory of God so brightly that he had to wear a veil when he came down from the mountain (Exodus 24:35).

Swirling a taste of wine begins to release the fragrance of aromatic compounds. Scientifically, swirling adds oxygen to the wine, allowing it to “open up” to its fullest flavor. Spiritually speaking, that is an interesting concept. When wine is bottled and corked, it is stable, and maybe beautiful, but only by open agitation does it begin to reveal its true character. We may want to live in a world where we blithely skip from rainbows to glitter, but the reality is, our character is revealed most when things around us spin. Trouble and trial bring to the front who we are at the core. Paul wrote,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subject to futility–not willingly, but because of him who subjected it–in the hope that the creation will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

Romans 8:18-21

When we are swirled in the glass of suffering, we “open up” to share the essence of the Fruit of the Spirit within us, not for our own good, but for the glory of God the Father! All the notes of joy and peace and patience–all the way to self-control are released so that others may sense the overwhelming love of Jesus in us and through us.

Coming next, part five: The first taste

References

(2021, June 11). What am I tasting? Wine Spectator.

Gregutt, P. (2015) How to taste wine. Wine Enthusiast.

Shade of a wine (n.d.). Sommeliers Choice Awards. Beverage Trade Network

Vinepair staff (n.d.). How and why you swirl wine in your glass. Vinepair.

Image credits

Central photo by Stephanie Loomis

Grapes and Bottles images by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Magazine template by Photobacks

Oh mercy

Matthew 5:7

Matthew 5:7

Mercy is the thing we all want, that none of us deserves, and that few are willing to offer to others. The Oxford dictionary defines mercy as, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” When we are wronged, our first thoughts are usually in response to our hurt and anger. The godly view, however, is to put others first. Mercy is looking beyond the harm to the person who caused it, considering the life circumstances that lead to wrongdoing. In other words, looking at the person who caused us harm through the lens of God’s love.

This is not to say that mercy ignores the harm. Justice still must prevail. There are always consequences for sin. However, mercy does not take justice into its own hands, but allows the Lord to enact any kind of vengeance or punishment through His will and according to His perfect justice. Being merciful is paired with doing justly and walking humbly (Micah 6:8). If we adhere to these three, we will not lash out in anger, frustration, and hurt when we are wronged – even when it is in our power to do so. Instead, we will see others as God sees them, and by His grace we can offer mercy in His name.

Mutually encouraged

Romans 1:11-12

When I started this blog I planned to use it as a place start thinking out loud about a book I want to write. My concept was a book for church people on the need for grace toward parents of prodigals. Too often I have experienced judgement from my brothers and sisters in Christ because of the decisions my teenage and adult children made. In talking to other parents, I learned my experience was not unique. I used the father of the Prodigal Son as an exemplar and started reading broadly about the concept of grace throughout the New Testament.

As I read, I felt that I needed more comprehensive and deep study, so I turned to one book at a time, initially alternating Old Testament and New Testament. One thing my doctoral work taught me was how to research and how to articulate what I learned. I worked my way through Ecclesiastes, James, Habakkuk, Galatians, Jonah, Nahum, and Ephesians.

Partway through Nahum COVID-19 hit, and 2020 turned into a year of one catastrophe after another. As days of quarantine turned to weeks, I turned to the passages of scripture that offered hope and comfort. In late May, the death of George Floyd sparked protests (mostly peaceful) and riots (always violent.) Outcry over racism dominated the news, even as the COVID pandemic spread. I started Psalm 119, and then used Hope Church Las Vegas’s prayer week as an interlude to consider some of the names of God. I attended a prayer rally on Juneteenth in Atlanta, and was both encouraged and saddened. I turned to Lamentations in response.

Throughout the summer, the dual crises of physical and spiritual warfare divided the American church, often down political party lines. AS I returned to complete Psalm 119, I found my thoughts returning to the book I had planned to write, and I realized, while parents of prodigals do need to be treated with grace instead of judgment, there is a larger issue of grace that the Church and my Christian friends need to reconsider. Social media, particularly Facebook, has become a battleground, not between the saved and the lost, but between brothers and sisters in Christ. How can this be?

So, now, I return to a theme for now instead of a book. Lament over the Church in the US is a place to begin thinking about the need for grace over judgment. Lament over racism, lament over partiality, lament over the tongue as a fire, lament over unholy pursuits– there are so many places to begin. And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that we will never be able to truly offer grace until we have first suffered through the depths of lament. How else can we bear one another’s burdens unless we come alongside in their struggle and sorrow?

In Romans, Paul wrote that he longed to see the people of the Roman church, not so he could bestow grace on them or drop some wisdom. He wanted to see them so that together they could benefit from mutual encouragement by each other’s faith. Believers have been largely relegated to remote church attendance for five months. We long to be together again, but we cannot hope for “normal.” We should not want to return to the old ways. We should, however, long to be mutually encouraged by our faith. And that requires grace upon grace.

I don’t pretend to know where this blog will go from here. I hope to be listening to the Spirit’s leading as I consider the role of lament and the responsibility of grace. It is the beginning of learning to love the way Jesus did.

KAPH

Psalm 119:81-88

2020 is looking to be a year where we cry out, “How long?” How long? is a theme that returns again and again throughout scripture. This iteration has two components: physical and political. The components operate separately, but together are wreaking havoc on the US (and the world). “One nation, under God, indivisible” has morphed into multiple cultures without God, increasingly divided.

Psalm 119:88

Believers around the US want to be able to attend church together, they way they did before mid-March. They want to know “how long until things get back to normal?” But there is an element missing in that question. Catastrophes are often catalysts of permanent change for everyone involved. Think about ancient history: a catastrophic meteor took out the dinosaurs, the great flood took the earth’s population to eight, massive wars continually changed national borders, and natural disasters altered physical land masses. According to an article in Science, 536 was the worst year in history to be alive when devastating volcanic eruptions blotted out the sun for 19 months.

Recovering from disaster, both natural and man-made, requires a whole new setting for normal. Major changes in economies, philosophies, and societies mean that the post-disaster realities are not “normal.” New patterns of living, working, and socializing have to be established following any cataclysm that changes land, borders, and population. No one is immune from having to adjust to a “new” normal.

We who are believers should be the first to recognize that changing how we do things in response to the changing world. We have an unshakeable foundation upon which to rebuild, but we must recognize that church life must adapt to spread the gospel to the lost in this new reality. We don’t know what the new reality looks like yet; we are still in the middle of the crisis. But we must prepare our heart and minds for something different, something that crosses the lines of race and social culture into the singular Body of Christ.

So, should we even be longing for church services as they were five months ago? I am beginning to think we need to be thinking forward to a new kind of gathering as believers. Church as social club or sanctified activity needs to end. It needed to end well before the pandemic, which may be one reason God allowed it. I can’t predict what the “new normal” will be, but this psalm reflects a need for us to know the sure commandments of God and focus on His precepts in order to live out His testimonies through the madness that seems to be enveloping our world.

We have an opportunity to unite with believers across culture and ethnicities; COVID19 and the cry out to end racism are both catastrophe and a chance to return to our first love (Greenway, 2014; Revelation 2:1-7). We need to seek a new relationship with the Lord, one wrapped in His Word and one that trusts His steadfast love.

Church services must change so that we who are the Church can fully participate in living a life fully committed to living out the law of the Lord. When we keep His testimonies, we can know that, no matter how the world changes during catastrophes, we are secure in His love for us.

Maybe the Church needs to become geographically smaller in order to have a global influence for the gospel. Maybe each of us as believers needs to take on the mantle of evangelism and discipleship rather than waiting for church staff to do the work while we just attend services. God is calling for believers in the US to seek His face as we navigate what society may look like on the other side of this pandemic, along with every other crazy event of 2020.

We need to BE the Church, not just GO to church. We know His commandments; we now need to embody them for His glory.

Reflections on a Sunday sermon.

Hope Las Vegas, 6-14-2020

On Sunday, Pastor Vance spoke powerfully about our need for hope. It resonated with me, especially as I had just returned to Atlanta and the continuing tumult there. Between the pandemic, social injustices, political divisions, economic uncertainty, and fear over the future, the prevailing emotion of the world is despondency. But those of us who call Jesus, Lord have a hope for a future that glorifies the Father.

Hope is to expect with confidence. For the believer, that means knowing that whatever we face, it has been filtered through the sovereign character and promises of a holy God. Christianity, Pastor Vance reminded us, is NOT our civic identity! This world is not our home; we yearn for our eternal dwelling with Jesus.

Pastor Vance’s words reminded me of a C.S. Lewis quote I painted a few years ago. We ARE made for another world, ALL of us. Our melanin, our preferences, our diversity- these are part of what makes the Kingdom so beautiful. We long for complete unity and peace, but this world only offers glimpses of what will come. We hope with confident expectation that ultimately we will be united as One Body, the bride of Christ.

My sister-in-Jesus, America Stancil, said, “That’s why we need to represent the world that God prepares for us while we are here on earth. Love one another. Praise God that Heaven awaits us!”

How do we represent the fullness of unity and peace here on earth? We begin by rejecting partiality, marginalization, and oppression of any kind. We begin by loving the way Jesus loves. Our human natures will always get in the way of getting love right all the time, but we have redemption and forgiveness in Jesus that allows us to pursue reconciliation and unity in spite of our many mistakes and sins.

We begin with hope. We reach out in love. We remember we are part of a family: One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Friday’s interlude

El Elohim hayyim, the living Lord

The riots are waning. The protests continue in many places. The demand for change remains strong. After a week of peaceful protest marred by acts of violence and destruction, the question is “now what?” How do we as a society move toward racial reconciliation and away from systemic racism without any form of accountability?

The short answer: I don’t know. As I see it, there is no reconciliation without the Eternal, Immutable, Holy, Righteous, and Living God. I don’t think society in general can agree on a path forward, especially in this age of division, ad hominem attacks, and refusal to hear all sides of any issue. Certainly government cannot fix the system it created. Corruption is rampant at all levels of elected “public servants.” No, human nature on its own is drawn to disorder – humanity’s reflection of the second law of thermodynamics. The only hope is in the mercy of the God who never changes. The Church must step up and lead.

Is there corruption in the church? If it is made up of people, yes. But there is a Savior whose Spirit brings accountability. In Jesus, believers who walk out their convictions can lead the way to reconciliation. Love, respect, honor, dialogue, and hospitality are where to begin in how we treat each other. We cannot save ourselves, but the Lord will work in and through us, upholding those who trust Him with His hand.

We do not need to be dismayed at the state of society; God will give us strength. We can, and we must, rely on the power of the living Lord to be the forces for change in culture. Oceans may rise and empires may fall, but God, El Elohim, is immutable, never changing,

 His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. By these he has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

2 Peter 1:3-7 (CSB)

Interlude for Thursday

Proverbs 21

The US in in the third month of COVID19 limitations and fear. It is also in the 7th day of protests that began with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and expanded to race relations and systemic injustices in general. In the last few years, and increasingly faster, we are witnessing the consequences of people doing what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). At the moment, there seems to be little hope for deliverance from both natural and man-made catastrophes.

The truth is that there is no hope without the Lord Almighty to save us. Proverbs 21:2 says, ” Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” Verse 7 adds, “The violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is just.” We see this in the world around us; the US is only a small part of global injustice, where humans harm others for power, control, and wealth.

We who call ourselves believers know that the only true power belongs to Almighty God. He knows the hearts and motives of each of us. His desire is for us to be people of righteousness and His justice. We look to Him, because “no wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30). As we seek and pursue peace, we know that the ultimate victory belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31).

Our prayer today may be “Lord God Almighty, Jehovah Adonai, go before us and behind us so that we walk with confidence that You alone are wholly just and You alone are mighty to save. Let me be a source of your wisdom today so that Your mighty hand can work through me.”