Feeding Enemies

Man, the gospel life is tough. God has such great expectations of his people. We are called to behave in ways that are far above how we probably would prefer to live. If we were left to our natural inclinations, we would be a sorry lot indeed. Living a life focused on righteousness has its rewards in both the short term and the long run….but the principles are high.

For example, God calls us to love others…as in ALL others. Have you ever really tried to do that? How can you possibly love everyone including your obnoxious neighbor, the mean girl undermining your work, and your unrepentant ex?

And how about this…we should bless those who persecute us. And be patient. And work hard, and don’t seek revenge, and….

Romans 12 (New Living Translation)

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

I love how the New Living Translation translates the first sentence: “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them!” I can almost hear Paul saying this.

What do you suppose he is up to in this passage?

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

I think these timeless words were his attempt to create something new out of the old things. He was carving out a distinct identity for this new thing that Jesus had started and wanted those who followed Jesus to be unique and noticeably different from all the other people. He set the bar high because Jesus set the bar high. And just in the same way that a fence protects the children who play inside it, these high bars protect our hearts and our souls from corruption, self-indulgence, and vapidity.

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Christ-followers are people of peace. Christ-followers are generous, loving, patient, humble, and honorable; and would never repay evil with evil. Christ-followers are DIFFERENT.

19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.

20 Instead, 

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”

I remember once hearing a speaker at a youth retreat ask the audience if people could tell if we are Christian or not. It is a question worth revisiting. Look again at how Paul describes the way God wants you to live. How are you doing? Can people tell that you are a Christ-follower by your choices?

Today is a good day to raise your own bar. It’s never too late. Go out and find a way to feed an enemy in the name of the Lord. And don’t just pretend to love people…..really LOVE them. After all, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

For the Love of God by Michelle Robertson

EveryBODY

My dad once told me a story about something that happened to him when he was a kid. It involved his school lunch. Even in the long years of the depression, his family had enough to feed four kids. My grandfather was a Pennsylvania State prison guard, and my grandmother was an admissions clerk at the local hospital, so their work was steady.

My grandmother was an extraordinary baker. Homemade bread, rolls, cakes, pies….she could really stretch her grocery dollar with her skill and while they didn’t have much, they had enough.

One day my grandmother asked my father if he enjoyed the peach pie she had packed. She chastised him a little for never mentioning the wonderful homemade baked goods that she packed every day. He was confused, and told her that he didn’t have any pie in his lunch pail. The next day she asked about the cinnamon roll she had packed, and again, he replied that all he had was a sandwich.

They tracked this for a few more days and realized that one of the other children was taking one item from his pail every day….likely a child who had nothing to eat. From that day on, Grandma packed two sandwiches, two pieces of fruit, and two baked goods. Every day when my Dad got to the lunch room, only one of each item was left. They never did find out which child they were feeding, but together they made sure a child didn’t go hungry. 

In the body of Christ, my grandmother was the baker. She quietly made sure that there was enough to feed her four, and one other. That child might have felt very ashamed to have to steal food to survive. But my father never mentioned it at school. In the body of Christ, he was the silent partner.

Romans 12 (Common English Version)

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 

What is your place in the body of Christ? Are you the ear, able to listen to someone’s problems? Are you the wallet, able to give your financial resources to help those in need? Maybe you are the feet that are willing to go and do disaster recovery, or the hands that hold a sleeping baby so that a tired mother can sit under the cypress trees and hear the sermon…

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Everybody is somebody in the BODY. Next time you see a place to use your gift, say yes. You never know whose life may be forever changed by it.

Grace Accordingly by Joe McGraw

Some Good News

One of the unexpected blessings that has emerged in the last two months is John Krasinski’s show called Some Good News. Have you seen it? It is amazing. Krasinski is a well known actor from The Office and the new Jack Ryan series. He developed a wonderful show that he tapes in his family room each week which seeks to bring you one thing: some good news. He staged a presentation of Hamilton for a young girl who had tickets to Hamilton on Broadway for her birthday which of course was cancelled. So Krisinski corralled the cast…including LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA…to a ZOOM production of one of the most popular songs from that show. The girl cried. I cried. Then he did a ZOOM graduation, a ZOOM prom, and even a ZOOM wedding. The show is full of video clips of people from all over the country doing very thoughtful things for others. I have literally cried every week watching all the stories of people just being GOOD.

So in that spirit, today we will focus on a happy reading. Let’s take a trip to Romans to see what kind of encouragement we can discover there. Let’s talk about love. Let’s talk about prayer. Let’s talk about showing honor. Let’s share some good news.

Romans 12 (Common English Bible)

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other.11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 

Love that is genuine enables people to hold on to what is good. Where is God calling you to show love without pretending? How can you love the people around you (some of whom are probably unlovable) like members of your family? (Some of whom are definitely unlovable!)

God calls us to be happy in our hope. What an appropriate focus for where we are right now. If we didn’t have hope, where would we be?

Maybe the best way to have hope is to give hope away.

13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home.14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart.

Take these words to heart. Welcome the stranger. Give to those in need. Bless the folks who are ugly to you. Cry with your friends when they are crying. (Turn on Some Good News. That will take care of it.) Hang out with the marginalized.

In short, the way to be happy in these times is to be like Jesus, the original Good News. You have the power to be some Good News to somebody today. Go do it! You’ll be the one to get the blessing.

No Wake Zone by Michelle Robertson

The Sky is Falling

International travel is suspended.

March Madness is canceled.

Broadway is dark.

Disney is closed.

The stock market is down over 20%.

Colleges aren’t returning after Spring Break.

Collegiate sports are suspended.

Schools are closed.

Worship services are canceled.

Was Chicken Little right?

The threat of the coronavirus and the decisions that are forthcoming from the CDC and the WHO regarding gathering in large groups have brought an air of “the sky is falling” to our community. With breathtaking speed, twenty-four hours of announcement after announcement came pummeling though our devices and each one seemed worse than the last. The health of our nation and the economic impact of these decisions are unsure at this time, and we all feel the anxiety, anger, frustration, and fear that come with watching everything you know turn upside down in the span of a day.

Hebrews 12 (New International Version)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

PERSEVERANCE. It is good to remember on days like these that WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS. We will run this race together. We’ll fix our eyes on Jesus as we throw off the hinderance of fear and misinformation. And we will submit to authorities who are making the best decisions they can based on their studies and information, like it or not.

In what I think is a remarkable show of national unity, everything is shutting down so that we can collectively slow down and eventually stop the course of this virus until the last case has been reported. We’re doing this TOGETHER.

It will help us if we recall what Jesus endured, and realize that he is running this race with us. Even in our exhaustion, we can remember Jesus’ pain and suffering and find the strength to continue. Consider this:

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

And don’t forget what happened to Chicken Little. She got bonked on the head by an acorn and concluded that the sky was falling. In her hysteria, she convinced Goosey Loosey, Henny Penny, and Ducky Lucky to join her in running around yelling that the sky was falling. Then came Foxy Loxy, who offered to take them to the King to report about the sky. So he took them one at a time into his fox den, where loud squawks and flying feathers ensued. They never returned. Pretty foxy, wouldn’t you say?

The moral? Keep your head about you. The sky is not falling. The fox den is a place of fear, so don’t go there. You’ll get entangled. Instead, follow the hygiene guidelines, don’t go into large crowds if you are in the vulnerable demographic, and just wait it out. And practice patience, perseverance, and love for one another.

This is bad, and it will get worse before it gets better. But it won’t last forever. Don’t lose heart! This too shall pass.

Calming Waves by Michelle Robertson

Ordinary Life

Within a very brief period of time, things around the world have gone upside down. Australia is on fire, 180 people were shot down from the sky during a missile strike by Iran on Iraq, my own denomination is moving forward toward an historic and inevitable split, Puerto Rico suffered damaging earthquakes, and our government is in turmoil. We can hardly wake up in the morning without yet another unthinkable world situation coming out that seems to blow up the last one that we haven’t had time to assimilate. I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep up. I am beginning to think that Chicken Little was right; the sky indeed, is falling.

I hope that you all know that when such widespread disaster strikes, we can read scripture, pray, find opportunities to actively respond in tangible ways, and be obedient to the place God is calling us into in the midst of the storm. Without a doubt, one place we are NOT called to be is on the negative side of all these issues as explored through social media. Nothing EVER gets worked out there. No good comes from pot-stirring, endless speculation, name-calling, and spreading misinformation. There are so many better ways to respond. Here is just one:

Romans 12 The Message (MSG)

Place Your Life Before God

12 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.

What would happen if we all took our ordinary lives and placed them before God as an offering? What would it look like if we eschewed the social media culture that we fit into without thinking, and instead fixed our attention on God? Are we too well-adjusted to this culture of hate-spewing and fact-mangling that we don’t even seek the truth?

If we took our everyday life and laid it before God each morning, do you think God would say, “Thanks for that! Now feel free to spend two and a half hours today (the current average daily social media use) of this precious time bashing one another on social media.” I don’t think so. I think he would encourage us to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, comfort the lonely, bring water to the thirsty, and walk the shelter dogs. OK, I added that last part, but you get the gist.

In the midst of all of this recent, tremendously disconcerting strife, choose a better path. Lay your life before God and do something CONSTRUCTIVE and positive, and embrace what God is doing for you.

He is ready to change you from the inside out, and he wants something from you. Can you respond to him?

When we bring all that we are and all that we have and give it to God, we embrace all that he has given us and live our lives in the manner he desires from us. It is then that we are walking in the will and the way of the Lord.

So here’s a thought. Stay off social media for 24 hours. Take that two and a half hours and do something positive with it. Then see how you feel about the world around you.

Time spent in the silence of God’s presence is always time well spent. May you find peace, hope, and contentment there.

Finding God in the Quiet by Becca Ziegler