Monday, June 1, 2020

Race and Christianity

Remembering George Floyd: Devoted father, 'gentle giant' | USA ...

First of all, please know this is a very strange blog for me to write.  I'm afraid that even in the writing of it I may be offending some.  If that's the case, please accept my apologies. But I'm more afraid of being a coward and not addressing a topic I feel needs to be addressed. Ephesians 4:15 implores us to  "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ."

The George Floyd tragedy and the COVID death disparity are the two most recent examples that the world Africa-Americans and other people of color live in and the world whites live in are very different.  James 2:1-9 is about the forbidding of favoritism and it seems to me that racism is an ugly form of favoritism.

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 

Things to think about:
  • Speaking the truth in love - Love without truth is mush.  Truth without love is harsh.
  • I believe God is the Artist who loves color would have us celebrate the variety in His creation. I don't believe in color blindness because that tries to ignore the beauty of the quilt God has made.  I am richer when I embrace others from different backgrounds who don't necessarily look or sound like me.
    • Why should you see color?
  • Full transparency about the current climate (How do you really feel about it?)
  • What you (don’t/want) to understand about race, police violence, etc.? What is the lingering question you’ve always wanted to ask?
  • Advocating in your respective circles for your brothers (When topics of race surface do you stand in the gap, tend to agree or remain silent?)
  • What can we as a group do to help? Heal? Change for the better? 
Isaiah 59: 1-9
So Justice is driven back,
    and Righteousness stands at a distance;
Truth has stumbled in the streets,
    Honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found,
    and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The Lord looked and was displeased
    that there was no Justice.
 He saw that there was no one,
    he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;

so His own arm achieved Salvation for him,
    and His own Righteousness sustained him.

BE SOMEONE

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Jesus - The Source, The Structure and The Salvation


There are so many facets of the Christian faith to explore that are good and of God and deserving of our time and attention.   In verses 15-23 of the first chapter of Colossians, Paul brings us back to the True North of our faith, Jesus.   As I re-read this passage in The Message version of the Bible, I was struck by three aspects of Jesus: He is the Source, He is the Structure, and He is the Salvation. Let’s explore each of these and in doing so, bring back into focus the elemental Truth of our faith.

Colossians 1:16 - For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in Him and finds its purpose in Him.


Things to think about:
The Source
·      Col. 1:15-18  -  We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

o   Jesus is the representation of God
o   Everything got its start in Jesus
o   Everything finds its purpose in Jesus
o   What is the Holy Spirit illuminating for you as you consider Jesus as The Source of everything?

The Structure
·       Col. 1:18-20 -  He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, …

o   Jesus is eternal
o   Jesus is supreme
o   Jesus provides a home and healing for all creation
o   What is the Holy Spirit illuminating for you as you consider Jesus as The Structure of the universe?
The Salvation
·      Col. 1:20-22 - …all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence.

o   Jesus’ sacrifice
o   Jesus carried us to God’s side
o   Jesus put our lives together
o   Jesus makes us acceptable before God
o   What is the Holy Spirit illuminating for you as you consider Jesus as The Salvation of your soul?
Our response
·      Col. 1:23 - You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. 
·      What characteristics of Jesus feel new or renewed to you as you think through our lesson?
o   What are things we can do today to keep ourselves grounded and steady?
o   How does our study encourage you to avoid being distracted and diverted?



  

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Breath of Life


During the current pandemic, the whole point of self-quarantining, wearing masks, and other precautions is to prevent the breathing in of the COVID-19 virus because it is transmitted through droplets in the air.  Breathing in this air can quite literally be fatal. Ironically, the Bible also has a lot to say about breathing. To borrow an expression from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, it is like a “good infection”.  Let’s look at three examples of how God’s breath gives us life and consider our response to them.

John 20:22 - And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.


Things to think about:
·      Genesis 2:7 – “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
o   We owe our very physical presence to God breathing life into us.
o   Job 34:14-15 – “If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.”
·      John 20:22 – “And with that He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
o   Oxygen is what allows us to keep on living. Jesus breathed into us an eternal source of life through the Holy Spirit.
o   We don’t take one gulp of air to last a lifetime but it is a continuous process.
§  How do we practice spiritual breathing?
·      2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”
o   Our source for knowledge and wisdom has the very breath of God as its source.
·      Psalm 150:6 – “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD”
·      Sometimes people (Christians included) wear masks so as to NOT breathe in God’s breath
o   What are some of these masks?
o   Why do we wear them?
·      Without overworking the analogy here too hard, how can we be spiritual ventilators to those who are struggling to take in God’s breath?
o   Isaiah 42:5-7 - This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
o   We can only give what we have already been given.        
§  Breath is Life – pass it on!

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Whetstone (part 2)



Last week we began to look at look at how God uses two kinds of abrasives to sharpen our faith and character – Relationships and Circumstances.   The metaphor was how a sharp edge is put on a blade. To sharpen a knife, you get a whetstone – a hard, abrasive stone designed specifically to put a razor-sharp edge on a blank piece of metal.  In the hands of an amateur, a knife will just be ground into a blunt chunk of useless metal. But in the hands of an expert, he will gently work both sides of the blade until it is honed into a keen tool, effective for its intended purpose.   So we now have one side of the blade addressed, the Relationship side, and will turn our attention to the other one here, Circumstances.

Romans 5:3-4 - Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Things to think about:
·      Circumstances
o   As we said last week the current pandemic with the social distancing, public activities and places being closed, and many people’s jobs being “furloughed” or eliminated are all sources of stress.  This is on top of all the real life events that were already occurring before the COVID-19 crisis.
o   How are you coping right now?
·      There are many verses that speak to how and why God allows difficulties into our lives
·      Which Bible story resonates with you that tells of God’s child or people in a trying circumstance?
o   There are so many that deal with all manner of challenges in life, here are just a few:
§  Abraham and Sarah couldn’t conceive (Family issues)
§  Moses and the children of Israel in slavery (Political problems)
§  Moses and the Hebrews backed up against the Red Sea (Insurmountable situation)
§  No food and water in the desert (Basic needs)
§  Jehoshaphat facing an immense enemy army (Power struggles)
§  Various people in the Gospels with physical conditions (Health problems)
§  Jesus being persecuted (Being misunderstood)
·      All of these situations looked impossible
o   God has seen it all.  There isn’t a situation He hasn’t come across before and effectively dealt with.
o   What common thread(s) do you see in how they were resolved?
§  Fulfillment of a promise God made
§  God’s mercy prevailing
§  Dependence on God being revealed
§  The praise for the victory going to God
§  Something only God could do
§  Something else?
·      How do all of these various kinds of circumstances help sharpen us? (Hint: our verse for today)
o   Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
o   Does the order of these characteristics matter and if so, why?
§  Think about any skill you have ever learned, whether it is in business, sports, music, a hobby.  You probably weren’t very good at it at first but you kept after it (Perseverance).  After a while, you got a bit better and even developed some competency (Character).  Ultimately, when it was time to perform, you knew you could do it (Hope).
§  How is the current situation building any of these into your life?
·      It wouldn’t be an appropriate Bible study on circumstances without a reference to Romans 8:28 and its orphaned follow-on in verse 29. Here it is from The Message:
o   That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. God knew what He was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. 
·      At the end of his life, Moses told the Israelites, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
o   In our time of social distancing, God is not staying away.
·      Remember, God doesn’t write stories with bad endings, they just never go the way we would have written them (praise be to God!)
·      My encouragement to you is this - Be alert and expectant to what God is up to.  He is using this once-in-a-lifetime event to sharpen each of us to serve Him and others. It may feel rough but know that His purposes are being worked out in and through you, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Whetstone (part 1)



To make a sharp edge on a knife, you wouldn’t use a soft piece of silk.  Instead, you would get a whetstone – a hard, abrasive stone designed specifically to put a razor-sharp edge on a blank piece of metal.  In the hands of an amateur, a knife will just be ground into a blunt chunk of useless metal. But in the hands of an expert, he will gently work both sides of the blade until it is honed into a keen tool, effective for its intended purpose.  Over the next two weeks, we’ll look at how God uses two kinds of abrasives to sharpen our faith and character – Relationships and Circumstances.

Romans 12:18 – If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Things to think about:
·      The genesis of this study is somebody at work who annoys me – a lot. After stewing on it too much, God intervened and helped me to start realizing that rather than focusing on the other person, I should be focusing on Him.  And in fact, He could actually use this other person to draw me nearer to Himself.  Rather than lean into my anger, I could pivot and use the situation to lean into Him. That’s when the idea of something or someone abrasive could be used to sharpen me and my relationship with the Lord.
·      The current coronavirus pandemic is certainly a circumstance we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves.  Moreover, with the “shelter in place” restrictions we are living under, we are in constant and close proximity with our families.  That’s a recipe for anxiety, frustration, short tempers, and a host of other undesirable things.  Even if you’re handling it pretty well so far, odds are someone in your family isn’t.
·      Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
o   We are instruments of God, designed by Him to do His work.
o   But to be effective, we need to be fashioned to be like Christ
·      Back to the reference to silk, I sure would rather things be easy and comfortable.  In fact, I spend a lot of my time and effort trying to create that situation for myself.  But God knows what I need, not just what I want.
·      Relationships
o   Wouldn’t your life be a lot easier if it wasn’t for all of the annoying people around you??? 
§  Spoiler alert – you’re one of those people to somebody else!
o   But seriously, God uses other people who are hard to love to teach us His love
§  Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
§  Rhetorical question - How is it within our rights to withhold grace from others when God lavished His grace on us BEFORE we accepted Him?
§  Actual question – do you have someone in your life now who is trying your patience?
o   He uses relationships to teach us Humility
§  James 4:1-2 – “Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.”
·      If you read a history book or the news, this is certainly true.
·      But even if were not actually plotting violence, we do get angry which Jesus said was tantamount to murder.
·      Do you have situations now where the real source of conflict is your pride, desires, or selfishness?
o   So, what does He expect from us?
§  Matthew 22:39 - ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
§  If you need a playbook for what that looks like, Paul has it right here:
·      Romans 12:14-21 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
·      How are your relationships faring in the current environment?
o   Are there ones that have improved?  Ones that have maybe deteriorated?
o   Is God using anyone to sharpen you? Or perhaps, do you need to let Him?
·      Do you need to turn from your natural desire to lash out and defend yourself and instead, through faith, cut through the animosity with humility, goodness, gentleness, and truth?