One In the Spirit, One in the Lord

A song came to mind today. I remember linking arms with friends as we sang it around the campfire when I was young and naïve, and perhaps a little too trusting. The song is “We Are One In the Spirit.”

I believed in the ideals in the song. I still do. Fifty years later, having observed at least fifty demonstrations of decimating attacks on “each man’s dignity and each man’s pride,” and lots of opportunities to forgive, I still cling to the hope of the unity the Apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 4.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

It’s obvious we have some maturing to do. In the same chapter he writes:

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.

Are there good reasons for separating? Of course. Dangerous people who refuse to change remain dangerous. A parent who loves two children will move an aggressive bullying sibling away to another room protect the other. The object is protection for one and restoration for the other. We have far too many examples of situations where habitual abuse in churches was covered up using 1 Peter 4:8 “love covers over a multitude of sins,” as justification while ignoring Ephesians 5:11, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” One is about extending grace for growing-pain type sins and the other is about not tolerating a pattern of serious sin with potential long-term consequences, whether for one person or for thousands.

One instruction has grace for the faults of immaturity while the other permits harmful, ungodly ideas and practices to become established. That discussion requires more time and space than this blog post allows today. I’m talking today about the chafing that occurs when we rub shoulders with fellow-believers who still have rough edges, in other words, all of us.

I saw these roses in the landscape patch between an apartment building and the sidewalk as I walked to the grocery store. I grabbed a photo on my phone because I liked the circle they formed. Usually, I edit out the flaws in my flower photos before I publish them. I tell people that if a photo of mine doesn’t have a time/date stamp on it, assume I have adjusted something. I did zap a couple of aphids on this one, but I left fading colour, browning edges and uneven pigment just the way it was. To me, the image represents a circle of unity with grace.

I heard a wedding sermon in which the officiant gave a pep talk to the bride and groom. He talked about the admonition to forgive and forbear. (Colossian 3:13)

“Who knew that forbearing the daily annoying stuff would be harder than forgiving the exceptional major stuff? he asked, speaking of his own experience.

I’ve noticed that one of the major reasons for splits in places where people once gathered with every intention of bearing with one another in love, are often triggered by the opposite character qualities of humble, gentle and patient. Instead, they jostled each other with arrogance, harshness, and impatience.

Sometimes we find ourselves side by side with prickly people Graham Cook calls “grace-growers” not realizing that their presence in our lives is not so that we can fix them (or develop protocols for their removal), but because the Lord is using their annoying qualities that continually rub us the wrong way to smooth our own rough edges.

Jesus said we would be recognized as his disciples, but not for our ability to shun the flawed and those who fail to fall in line with shunning practices, not for developing perfect theoretical doctrine, not for maintaining the pure DNA of our particular sect, not for either indulging sinful practices or condemning people still in process, and not for becoming successful by the world’s definition. He said his followers would be recognizable. You’ll know who they when you hear people say, “Look how they love one another!”

It’s like they are one in the Spirit or one in the Lord or something.

One in the Spirit by Joseph M. Martin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9zoq3k-3K0

Pure Wisdom

The older I get, the more I pray for wisdom.

The older I get, the more I realize I need it. Oh God, how I need it.

The older I get, the more I realize that what passed for wisdom when I was younger and more trusting of “experts” has dire consequences years later if the trajectory was off even slightly when I took off running in a direction I believed was right. A good idea, tainted by the least bit of self-interest at the expense of others will eventually reveal itself to be a stupid idea.

The older I get, the more I realize how easy it is to either deny my own motives or be ignorant of them.

The older I get, the more experienced I have needed to become at making apologies instead of excuses.

The older I get, the more purity in thought, word and deed matters more than innocence. The loss of innocence means being reconciled to the reality of the long-term devastating consequences of sin and the reality that evil, even in tiny amounts, ruins everything. Innocence lost is lost, but God restores purity.

The older I get, the more “When I am weak You are strong,” means and the more beautiful forgiveness received and extended becomes.

The older I get, the more I want to be like Christ, and the more I realize that I am completely unable to accomplish even one step in that direction without his empowering grace and especially the wisdom that comes from above.

The older I get, the more I realize that when I pray with a teachable attitude for wisdom instead of vindication, God does answer. Treasuring and using wisdom he has already given means paying attention to that still, small voice that is easy to ignore.

The older I get, the more I love God’s holiness. His motives are utterly pure. His love is untainted by selfish motives. He gives and gives and gives because He is love. He is peace.

But the wisdom from above is always pure, filled with peace, considerate and teachable. It is filled with love and never displays prejudice or hypocrisy in any form and it always bears the beautiful harvest of righteousness! Good seeds of wisdom’s fruit will be planted with peaceful acts by those who cherish making peace. (James 3:17 TPT)

Show Me the Fruit

It is not the job of the vine to hold up the trellis.

When religious institutions divert energy that should go toward producing fruit into maintaining their own structure, they are more a hindrance than a help.

Show me the fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22,23 NIV}

Bold

I needed signs of spring. I needed colour! As I write this, much of Canada is still snow covered and a blizzard is whiting out the prairies. Here in the Okanagan, spring arrives sooner than in most of the land, but even here it is late this year.

One of the first wild flowers to bloom in the drier parts of British Columbia is Balsam Root. I saw these bright yellow blossoms on a hill basking in the sun, but it was hard to get there. I went looking for some I could get closer to, but very few were blooming elsewhere yet. Instead I went to a garden shop and took photos of flowers that are too fragile to plant outside yet. They were very pretty, but there is something special about the wild ones.

Yesterday, as I drove in the rain, I saw a cluster of familiar blooms near the edge of the country road. I was hoping for bright sunny flowers on a bright sunny blue sky day, but as I checked out the images on my cell phone later, I was impressed by the contrast.

This is what they said to me: Sometimes you don’t fit in because you are not supposed to. Sometimes the brave, the bold, the courageous, and the strong ones who anticipate change embarrass the sheltered and subdued by bursting out in summer colour while winter still lingers on the edge of a dull cold day.

The first people to move into something new need to be strong. They need to know how get their approval from God because there are plenty of critics to point out what could go wrong. They need to be courageous because they face uncertainties without sure-footed examples to follow.

When someone says, “Be brave!” or “Have courage!” I must admit my first reaction is, “Why? Is this going to hurt? It’s going to hurt, isn’t it?”

Then I hear my Lord’s voice saying, “It’s not going to hurt as much as staying where you are, mired in discouragement like this.”

Someone I love told me she feels the Lord is telling her to “have courage.” Her reaction is much the same as mine was before the Lord took me on a roller coaster ride that ended brilliantly. The ride did require faith and some uncomfortable “illogical” standing out at times, but God certainly was with me in every twist and turn and rise and fall. He brought me safely through.

As we spoke, it also reminded me of the time God spoke to Joshua before he led a band of people who knew only the daily-ness of the same old same old. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous,” he said to the man who inherited Moses’ role. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

The season is changing. Be strong. Be courageous. Don’t be afraid to stand out.

Innocence, Passion, and Sacrifice

Be warned. This may contain what some consider to be negativity and too much information, but I want to be transparently honest. I struggle with pain. I hate it. It wears me down. Some nights are worse than others, but the other night was a doozy and left me crying in exasperation. To top it off, when I did manage to sleep, I had a nightmare.

In the dream, someone close to me went to the authorities and accused me of a horrendous crime I would never commit. The police came and arrested me, and I was dragged into court. I was innocent! In fact, I am a fierce defender of the safety of the ones I was accused of hurting! I have sacrificed years of my life for them! I passionately defended myself. But no one would listen in this crazy kangaroo court.

In the dream, I felt anger and rage that anything so ridiculous could happen. Strangely, the awareness of real-life pain wove in and out of my sleep and it felt like the dream cops were the cause of the electric shock-type pains that travel through my body and the severe muscle spasms I get in my legs. I couldn’t stand. I was so angry I tried to bite the officers restraining me.

When I woke, I was still angry. I knew I was innocent! I wanted to give those people in my dream the same treatment they had given me. I’d shoot them all with tazers! I’d twist their joints with ropes! I’d jab their guts with a bowie knife! It took a while to calm down and convince myself it was just a dream.

My body still hurt though. I was grumpy all day. I’m a little slow sometimes, and not just due to coping with pain and lack of sleep. Sometimes I just don’t get it.

Two of the words I’ve been thinking about for Creative Meditations for Lent this week are passion and innocent. In the dream I knew I was innocent. In the dream I fought passionately against the injustice of the whole thing. It didn’t dawn on me until I was looking at photos I took of a place called “Ecce Homo” in Jerusalem, that there could be a message in the dream. I have prayed Philippians 3:10 many times. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection [and the part I’m not as fond of but include because it’s a part of the whole picture] and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…”.

Jesus was innocent. Jesus was not emotionless. He was tempted in every way we are. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) God created us to naturally want to protect our bodies and souls from harm. If he was also human, how could Jesus control a passionate drive to defend himself from the false accusation from a disciple he loved? Did Jesus feel the powerful urge to strike back at those striking him? How could he love these people? How could he say, “Father, forgive them…?”

Jesus was fully God and fully man, but he emptied himself to live as a human, subject to the limitations of humans. [Christ Jesus] “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”  (Philippians 2:6-8) It was his connection with the Father and Holy Spirit that demonstrated what it is to be fully human living in right relationship with God the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit. He came to reconnect us to the Father. He left the earth so the Holy Spirit could come and fill us, comfort us, and renew us.

The worn stone pavement thought to be the location of the old Roman garrison under an ancient building in Jerusalem is called Ecce Homo – “Behold the Man.” These were Pilate’s words as he handed Jesus over to the soldiers who were no doubt demonically inspired to do their worst to him there.

The song, “Behold the Man” comes to mind today.

Like a lamb to the slaughter
They led Him away
He was battered, bruised, and beaten
For the sheep who’d gone astray…

Through the scourging and the beatings
He never said a thing…

Behold the Man
Really look at Him
And then you’ll understand

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIKrUPk4keo

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus tis now.