Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Oct
22

If I fall short, if I don’t make the grades’
If your expectations aren’t met in me today’
There is always tomorrow, or tomorrow night’
Please, don’t give up on me’

– Solomon Burke

Solomon Burke may not be a name you know. He was a contemporary of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Aretha Franklin but was not as successful as some of these artists. However, he was no less talented. According to music producer Jerry Wexler, Burke was “the first and possibly greatest of all 60’s soul men.” It was Burke who came up with the term “soul music.” He refused to use the label R&B singer because of his Christian faith. He was the “King of Soul” before James Brown. In 1965, Brown paid Burke to come on stage and hand over his crown and robe because he believed he deserved the title. 

“Don’t Give Up On Me” is one of his later recordings. It is about a relationship between a man and a woman, but the lyrics have a weightiness about them, and Burke brings this out in his powerful performance. He does not want people to miss the message. He pours out his soul. If we can set aside the human relationship aspect of the song, some of the lyrics are reminiscent of the Psalms. It is soul music. It is a heart crying out, “Don’t give up on me!”

How often have we said these words or prayed this prayer? We are sinful beings. We make mistakes. We sometimes do what we don’t want to do or don’t do what we know we should do. We feel shame or regret. We don’t want to let others down. We don’t want to let God down. We want a second chance. 

Jesus prayed a similar prayer on the cross. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Of course, Jesus had done nothing to let God down, but it felt in that moment as if God had given up. It certainly looked that way. The Son of God was nailed to a cross, experiencing a horrific death. Where was God? Paul tells us that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). Jesus prays, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” because it is the first line of Psalm 22, a psalm about the faithfulness of God. At the end of the psalm, it says that God “has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.” God does not give up!

People may give up on us in this life even though we do not want them to, but one thing is for sure, God will never give up on us. No matter what you are going through, God will not abandon you. In your darkest hour, God is with you. Don’t give up on yourself. Keep pressing on, and lean on God when you need him most.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Watch a performance of Don’t Give Up On Me.

Oct
14

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” (Matt. 1:1-3)

How was John preparing the way? He was baptizing people with a baptism of repentance, and he was preaching repentance. How does one prepare for the coming Messiah? How does one prepare a people to get ready for God whose ways are not their ways? You get them to turn around and change direction. It is the only way.

When Jesus came so many people missed who he was even though they were looking for the Messiah. They could not recognize him even when he was right in front of them. They were looking for the wrong thing. They were blinded and needed to repent. They needed to change what they were looking for. They needed to get rid of all the influences that kept them from seeing the Messiah. John helped them. He prepared the way.

We face the same problem today. Jesus has come, but Jesus gets viewed through different lenses. We make Jesus out to be whoever we want him to be. We pick out the sayings of his that we like and latch on to them. We ignore the sayings we do not like. Jesus is liberal or Jesus is conservative. Jesus is legalistic or Jesus is all love and no rules. If Jesus is just like us, then we are not following Jesus. If Jesus agrees with everything we agree with, then we are not following Jesus. Jesus challenged everyone he encountered. He made people rethink who they were and what they believed. He caused them to reconsider their allegiances. If Jesus is not doing that for us, then we are not following Jesus. Jesus will cause us to think differently and live differently. This is exactly what we need. Our opinions and beliefs will not save us. Our worldly allegiances will not save us. Only Jesus can save us, and we need to see him for who he truly is.

Who is Jesus?

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is not a military leader or a political figure. Jesus does not come to destroy our enemies. Jesus is our Savior, and this is exactly what we need.

We need someone to save us from the principalities and powers at work in this world. We need someone to conquer Satan and save us from his evil ways. We need someone to overcome death and save us from its finality. We need someone to save us from our sins and transgressions. We need someone to save us from ourselves.

Jesus comes to take away our sins. This does not mean that he forgives us and we keep on being who we were, or we keep on doing what we did. It means he forgives us, and we become someone new, so we don’t keep on sinning and choosing the wrong path. We see differently. We think differently. We live differently. We become like Jesus. This is our salvation.

John comes to prepare the way for Jesus because people were not prepared. People were not ready. They had too many things blinding them to truth and what matters. Their wealth and desire for possessions stood in their way. Their political allegiances and longing for power stood in their way. Their hatred for others and thirst for revenge stood in their way. Their pride and wanting to be right stood in their way. John came preaching a message of repentance. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. Prepare your hearts for the coming of the Messiah.

What is standing in our way? What Jesus are we following? Is it the one found in Scripture, the living Christ, or is it one picked up from the culture, one who looks exactly like us. There is only one Jesus that offers salvation. There is only one Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 

Do you know him?

Oct
08

The idea that we can categorize everything as either religious or secular is a modern notion. Throughout much of history, there was no religious-secular divide. Everything was spiritual. We are not better off for forcing all things into contemporary categories we have invented. All we have done is created new problems. We can now relegate our religious life to what we do one hour on Sunday rather than seeing everything we do as spiritual. We also fail to look for the spiritual in anything we have labeled as secular. Sometimes the spiritual is staring us in the face, but we fail to see it because we have already decided what it is.

These distinctions are clearly visible in music. We assign all kinds of labels to music. Two of the biggest are religious and secular. Because of this labeling, we believe no “secular” song can be religious. We also fail to recognize how some “religious” songs may contain impure influences. As most of us have already come to realize in our lives, labels are not always our friends.

You may be surprised to learn that some artists have deep religious beliefs that can be heard in their songs. Other artists may write about something good, true, or beautiful without realizing their lyrics point to a greater Good, greater Truth, or greater Beauty. It is a blessing whenever we see or recognize something that reminds us of God or his work in this world. We should never limit the places where we can look for God.

Throughout the years, I have been fascinated by how many “popular” songs use the language of prayer. I have begun with the help of a few friends to comprise a list of these songs. You could put these songs in a playlist. You could listen to them when the situation is appropriate, and you are searching for words. If you are aware of other songs that are prayers, let me know. I would love to expand this list.

Prayer Songs

Prayer for Children
Lord Protect My Child – Bob Dylan, Susan Tedeschi
Forever Young – Bob Dylan

Prayer for Mercy
Mercy Now – Mary Gauthier
The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea – The Louvin Brothers, Johnny Cash

Prayer for Good Fortune
Winning Streak – Glen Hansard

Prayer for Flooding or Hurricane Damage
This City – Steve Earle

Prayer of Gratitude for God’s Presence
A Living Prayer – Allison Krauss

Prayer for Patience in the Midst of Injustice
40 – U2

Prayer for Strength in the Midst of Injustice
Up to the Mountain – Patty Griffin

Prayer of Lament in a Fallen World
Prayer in Open D – Emmylou Harris

Prayer of Gratitude for God’s Grace
Why Me Lord – Kris Kristofferson

Prayer for Second Chances
Rewrite – Paul Simon

Prayer for Help
Help Me – Elvis Presley

Prayer of Surrender
If It Be Your Will – Leonard Cohen

Prayer for a Good Day
Lord, I Hope This Day is Good – Don Williams

Prayer for God’s Presence
Stay With Me – Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan

Prayer for Protection
Shelter Me – Buddy Miller

Prayer for Cleansing
Water – Kanye West

Prayer for Transformation
Yahweh – U2

Prayer for a City That Has Experienced Tragedy
My City of Ruins – Bruce Springsteen

Prayer for the Passing of a Loved One
Go Rest High on That Mountain – Vince Gill

Prayer for Endurance
Lord of the Starfields – Bruce Cockburn

Prayer When You Have Been Wronged
No Hard Feelings – The Avett Brothers

Prayer of Appreciation for God’s Work and Beauty
Poetry – Walt Wilkins

Sep
27

“Who, in fact, will ever comprehend ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God?'”

– Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John

I can’t explain a blessed thing
Not a fallen star or a feathered wing
Or how a man in chains has the strength to sing
Just one thing is clear to me
There’s always more than what appears to be
And when the light’s just right, I swear I see
Poetry

– Walt Wilkins

Have you ever had a friend who knows a movie or TV show so well they quote it all the time? In fact, a lot of times they are quoting the movie or TV show and you miss it because you do not know it as well as they do. It is a part of who they are. It is the language they speak.  

Something like this is happening in the Bible. The language of the New Testament is the Old Testament. There are Biblical references all over the place and most of the time the Biblical writers do not let us know this is going on. They assume we know the Bible well enough that we will catch these references ourselves. One of the most obvious times this occurs is at the beginning of the Gospel of John.

“In the beginning was the Word…”

We recognize this. We remember it from the book of Genesis, but the parallels do not stop there. The opening of the Gospel of John goes on to mention creation and light and darkness. These first five verses mirror the first five verses in the book of Genesis. Place them side by side and there are multiple parallels. This is no coincidence. All of this is on purpose.  

We are to read the Bible recognizing it is one big story. Each part is connected to other parts of Scripture. Creation is an essential element in the story. It is where it all begins. John is taking us back to the creation story and revealing details we did not know before.  

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3)

The Word was with God in the beginning. He was with God before creation and he is God. How could Jesus be with God and be God? We hear in these statements echoes of the Trinity. The Father is God. Jesus is God. The Holy Spirit is God. There is only one God.  

How are we to make sense of this? John gives us a clue. He presents these facts to us in the form of a poem. The Trinity is a mystery. It is beautiful. It is not so much for us to understand because it is beyond us. It belongs to the ways of God that are beyond our comprehension. We are to believe it, not understand it. It is poetry.

If you are into mathematics, engineering, or logic, then you might not be thrilled to learn that the Bible contains a lot of poetry. Human beings are complex. Some of us appreciate logic and reasoning while others enjoy arts and music. The good news is the Bible speaks of God in multiple ways. What we cannot do is ignore any of these ways. We cannot say, “I want the laws because they are rational and make sense, but I don’t want any of the Psalms.” Nor can we say, “I just want the Psalms because they are poetic and moving, but I don’t want any of the laws.” We need both, just as we need the poetic descriptions of God along with the more rational descriptions of God.  

We need to recognize that because God is beyond us, because we cannot wrap our minds around all that is God, poetry is a more adequate form of description for God. Logic is something for us to understand completely. Poetry often pushes the limits of our understanding. This is why poetry gets closer to describing God than logic, and yet both of them fall short. God is God. Our minds are unable to grasp everything about him and this is ok. In fact, it should be comforting. This is what makes him God.  

Because we have a poem, we should understand what is written in a different way. We approach it poetically rather than logically. We see this in verse 4. 

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4)

One of the key words used in this opening section is the word life. How do we understand this word? When we think of creation and life, we are probably thinking naturally. Jesus is creator. Jesus is the reason we are alive today. He designed us and made life on earth possible. These are good and godly thoughts, but is that all that John has in mind? I don’t believe so. In poetry, words can have more than one meaning. The apostle Paul tells us what we read in the Bible is often this way. There is the letter of the law and there is the spirit of the law. We can read the Bible naturally and we can also read it spiritually. We know what life means naturally, but what does it mean spiritually?

John was writing in a time when people were dead spiritually. There was no life in them. John is looking back to creation but he is also looking forward. Jesus is about to bring forth life just as he did in the beginning. He is going to do something new. He is going to bring about new creation. This is what the Gospel of John is all about. We need more than physical life. We need spiritual life. We need living water. Jesus is the source of life we need.

Why is there such a lack of spiritual life in the world? We get another poetic answer.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

We live in a world full of darkness. There is evil and darkness everywhere we look. The darkness is pervasive. It has infiltrated all of our lives. We are part of the problem. We cannot point our finger and act as if we are not to blame. We are and because of this we need a Savior.  

The good news is darkness and light are not equal powers. The cosmic battle that will play out before our eyes in this gospel is not one we have to worry about the outcome. Light shines in the darkness. The darkness has not overcome it. Light is more powerful than darkness. Jesus is greater than Satan. The ways of God lead to life. The ways of Satan lead to death. We know all of this. What happens in the end or what happens to us is not a mystery. The only question is what we will choose. Will we embrace Jesus? Will we embrace his way of life, or will we embrace something else?

Although there are mysterious elements within this poem concerning the nature of God, there are also things that are plain as day. John wants us to know from the beginning who Jesus is. We are not left to wonder. There is no hiding the identity of Jesus in this account. It is revealed in the first verse of the first chapter of the book.  

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Because this is poetry, it should cause us to slow down and read it slowly.  You don’t rush through a poem. You meditate upon it. You chew on it. You let it simmer. This is how we are meant to read this section of Scripture.  

The first thing we might want to meditate on is what John calls Jesus. He calls him the logos. There is really no good way of translating this Greek word, but we do use it in English. We find it in words like biology, psychology, physiology, and other words with the same ending. Ok, so we use it, but what does it mean? Our word biology is nothing more than the combination of two Greek words.  The first word is bios which means life. The second is logos which means all the collected thoughts.  Biology means all the collected thoughts on life. It is the science of living organisms. It is where we study cells and all that makes living possible. 

Word is not a perfect translation for logos, but it is not bad either.  Think about what words are. They are an expression of who we are. We cannot be known without words. We use words to tell others all about ourselves. If we think of words as an expression of ourselves, then this gets close to the Greek idea of logos. Jesus is the full expression, or revelation, of God. As we see Jesus interact with others, as he teaches, as he ministers, we are seeing God.

In case we fail to grasp this, we are also invited to meditate on the eternal nature of Jesus and his role in creation. Some of this stretches the limits of our mental capabilities. After all, we are finite beings contemplating God who is infinite. What is undeniable is who Jesus is. We may not understand all the intricacies of the Trinity, but John makes clear the identity of who this Gospel is all about. Jesus is eternal. Jesus is creator. Jesus is God. Jesus is life, and Jesus is light. We learn all this in the first five verses. We know who Jesus is.

So what?  The answer to this question is given at the end of the Gospel of John.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

The word translated belief here is more accurately translated trust. Some have even suggested it means allegiance. When Jesus called his disciples he was looking for more than them affirming something in their minds. They all could have stayed home and kept fishing if mental assent was all that Jesus desired. He was looking for followers. He was looking for apprentices who would learn his ways and follow in his footsteps. He was looking for commitment and faithfulness.  

From just the first five verses we know who Jesus is and what he wants to do. The question “So what?” is for us to answer. Jesus is God.  Jesus created us. Jesus is light. Jesus came to give us life.  

So what are we going to do?

We can ignore him. We can pretend like none of this matters. We can distract ourselves with other things. We can run the other direction. Or, we can deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him. We can love him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We can cherish his words in our hearts and do our best to live by them.  

We know who Jesus is. So what? We know what leads to life. So what? This is the question we have to answer every day. The identity of Jesus is not a mystery. The key to an abundant life is not a secret. John is not hiding anything from us. It is all in these verses. It is as plain as day. The only question is what we will do with it. Will we waste our lives on things that do not matter, or will we dedicate ourselves to Jesus? Will we meditate on his words? Will we desire to be like him? Will we abandon our other allegiances to follow Jesus?  

We need to know what we are getting into when we pick up something as powerful as a Gospel, and John does not disappoint.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

Now that we know, what will we do?

Sep
24

“A joyful heart is good medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22)

Music can evoke many different feelings and emotions. A song may make a person feel happy, sad, angry, excited, etc. Music is powerful. God knows this, and this is why music is part of his plan. Songs are scattered throughout the Bible. The church sings when it comes together. There is music in heaven. Music is an eternal language that blesses us in multiple ways.

Because music is powerful, we should pay attention to the songs on our playlists. Why do we like them? How do they make us feel? What are they saying? It is always helpful to consider the three transcendentals. Is it good? Is it true? Is it beautiful? Something as simple as a song can make us feel better. It can produce joy within us, and as the writer of Proverbs tells us, this is good medicine.

Some artists sing sad songs, some artists sing happy songs, and some sing both. Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes we need to be reminded that life is short and we live in a broken world. We need the blues to help us cry out against all that is wrong in this world. More often, we need to be reminded that life is worth living and should be celebrated. There are blessings all around us if we will take the time to notice them.

A song in the morning can fill us with joy and gratitude. It can set us on the right path and cause us to appreciate life.

One band that evokes joy is The Lovin’ Spoonful. Some may not know them today, but their first seven singles made it into the top ten in the 1960s. What is worth paying attention to is some of the joyful and playful lyrics written by John Sebastian. Daydream, a song that influenced Paul McCartney and John Lennon, is an example of this. The song is a meditation on the blessing of family. Even though life is not perfect, we have been blessed with spouses and children that bring us joy. The person in the song chooses to focus on these blessings.

It also helps that the song has a joyful tune. For some, the words of the song are ingrained into our minds. It is catchy, and we cannot help but sing and be glad. For this reason, I love this new instrumental version from John Sebastian and Arlen Roth. Listen, whistle, and be joyful. It’s good medicine.

Listen to the new version of Daydream here.

Sep
17

Life’s mysteries unravel when my tires hit that gravel
And I leave the paved road far behind
Every breath I breathe is one step closer to me
Easing my worried mind
– William Elliott Whitmore

The formation of ourselves is happening all the time. Our choices shape us in one way or another. In a sense, everything we do is spiritual because we are spiritual beings, and what we do is either life-giving or life-destroying, healthy or unhealthy. 

Most of us understand this when it relates to the obvious. We know helping others is not only a good thing to do, but it is beneficial for us. When we help others, we are being the person we want to be, and it has a transformative effect on us. We also know that when we steal or cheat, it corrupts us. We must realize these transformations are happening all the time, and they are not always obvious. 

We can make nearly anything a spiritual practice depending on how we approach it. Doing the dishes is viewed as a chore or maybe even a burden. What is transformative about doing the dishes? If we approach it with anger and frustration, then it is not good for us. However, if we approach it with a sense of gratitude, then it is good for us. What is the difference? It is perspective. Are we upset because people have dirtied dishes, or do we count it a blessing to have people in our homes we get to care for and love? 

Other daily activities are more concrete in which direction they lead us. They are either good or bad, and our perspectives may matter very little. We must ask ourselves, what is this doing to me? 

In Gravel Road by William Elliott Whitmore, he reflects on the benefits of solitude. A gravel road away from the noise and congestion of a city can be a life-giving place to spend some time. It can allow a person to slow down and reflect on life and what truly matters. A drive down a gravel road can be a spiritual activity if we allow it.

To live a spiritually healthy life, we should continually reflect on these questions.

What is this doing to me?
Is this life-giving?
Is this healthy or unhealthy?
Am I making a good choice?
Does this action reflect who I want to be?
Is what I am doing good, true, or beautiful?

We have choices to make. 

Do I watch the news or watch the sunset?
Do I spend time on my phone or spend time with my child?
Do I sleep in or volunteer?
Do I read the latest celebrity gossip or read poetry?
Do I invest in this person or avoid a conversation?
Do I use my home as a space to collect things or use it to welcome others?
Do I comment on social media or converse with the person in the room with me?

Our choices are forming us whether we realize it or not. Even little things, like a gravel road, matter. 

Click on Gravel Road to listen to the song by William Elliott Whitmore,

Sep
16

One of the last things Peter commands in his second letter is for us to “grow in the grace…of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Grace is unmerited favor. It is treating others better than they deserve. This is what Jesus does for us. “While we still were sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Grace is a gift that transforms lives. It penetrates hardened hearts and encourages love and goodness.

Every Christian is aware of the magnificent grace Jesus has shown us, but we cannot stop there. Becoming a Christian means we are to grow in this grace and practice it ourselves. We are to show grace to others just as Jesus showed grace to us. We are to embody the grace of Jesus in a world that lacks grace. This is not an easy calling. Grace means we are not focused on treating people fairly but on treating them better than they deserve. Grace is something we extend to all people, including our enemies. We are not called to practice grace on our terms. We are called to practice the grace of Jesus.

We live in a world where grace is disappearing. To practice grace and to be a community where grace abounds is countercultural. Grace stands out. It is not what people expect. Grace is central to the gospel, and this is what we embody when we practice it. Grace is powerful, but it is also costly. It was Jesus’ willingness to extend grace to us that led him to the cross. Grace means we are kind when others are not. Grace means we are loving when others are unloving. Grace means we forgive even when others refuse. Grace means we are patient with people who don’t have any patience. Grace manifests itself in many different ways. We have multiple opportunities every day to practice and grow in the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Sep
10

“The chute opens, the bull draws blood, and the gift is accepted by God”
– The Killers

As the music industry continues to experience changes, I hope the album never goes away because when it is done right, it can be a beautiful work of art. Pressure Machine, the new album by The Killers, is an outstanding example of this. It is a concept album reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska about life in a small western town. Religion is a prominent theme in many songs, and the good is highlighted along with the bad.

Terrible Thing is the third song on the album. It is about a teenager wrestling with suicidal feelings. The problem is that he lives in a town where “culture is king,” and there is no compassion for him in this culture. We learn throughout the song that the culture that is king is wrapped in religion. The name of Christ is invoked, and sacrifices are made, but the cultural Christianity that is revered does not set people free and does not always resemble Jesus.

Culture is often used in churches in a negative way. The bad things in society are the fault of the culture. What is wrong with the world is the culture’s fault. The problem is that we cannot escape culture. We create culture. We are a part of the culture. We may not like one aspect of culture, but we have our culture with its baggage. Christianity gets co-opted and used as a cultural tool. It becomes good news for some and bad news for others rather than good news for all.

We live in a complicated world. We may wish it were not so, but this is our reality. There are voices and powers in our world who want to use Jesus selfishly for their benefit. There are voices and powers in our world who will use the name of Jesus to harm and abuse others. Some voices and powers will even use Jesus as a weapon against others. This ought not to be so, but it happens. What we must do is tune out the voices and reject the powers and spend time with Jesus ourselves. Read the gospels. Listen carefully to the stories about Jesus and the words he speaks. Meditate on them. Make sure our words and actions resemble Christ, and we are not using his name for other purposes. Share the gospel that is good news for all.

I am grateful for songs like Terrible Thing that are not easy to listen to but cause us to reflect on important issues. May I be compassionate like Christ. May I be gracious and merciful to everyone I meet. May I be aware of people around me who are hurting and need a friend. May I offer good news to people who need to hear it.

Click Terrible Thing to listen to the song on YouTube.

Sep
09

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)

It is fascinating how we emphasize certain commands in Scripture while overlooking others. We all do it. It is part of being human. We judge some commands as more important than others. We may downplay the commands we struggle to keep while highlighting the ones we do keep. We often focus on the ones that whatever political group we belong to deems to be essential. We have our favorite parts of Scripture, and some commands may go unnoticed. Thankfully, we are saved by grace, but even so, we should pay attention to the commands we overlook and try to understand why as we seek to do a better job of following them.

Romans 15:7 is one such command. I suppose it gets overlooked by some because, at first glance, it doesn’t seem very important. Welcoming may be relegated to a simple greeting. Others may neglect it because it is at the end of Romans and not in one of the more frequently read chapters. Whatever it may be, this is a rich command that deserves our attention. It is a call to be like Christ.

Who does Jesus welcome? Jesus welcomes prostitutes and tax collectors to dine at his table. Jesus welcomes the hungry and feeds them. Jesus welcomes the sick and heals them. Jesus welcomes the spiritually bankrupt and gives them living words. Jesus welcomes us as we are. We are sinners in need of God’s grace.

We can change the lives of people around us just by welcoming them as Jesus did. We should be ready with food, a listening ear, healing words, a place at our table, and grace for those who are in need. They are all around us. All we have to do is follow Jesus and learn to be people who welcome others.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matt. 25:35)

Sep
08

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5, 7)

We live in an age of distrust. We do not trust institutions, and we see this play out in the news almost every day. There is distrust of government, school boards, doctors, police, religion, etc. It has become common to publicly display our displeasure with whatever institution we have decided not to trust. What is even more troubling is that we have now begun to distrust one another. Our suspicions are no longer limited to institutions. We are uncertain of our neighbors, family members, and coworkers.

To live in a state of constant suspicion is not healthy. Communities, where suspicion is rampant, cannot thrive. They will shrivel and die. Galatians 5:14-15 presents us with the possibility of two different communities.

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”

One community is founded on love. The other community bites and devours one another until it is no more. These are the options. The type of community we create is up to us.

A community founded on love trusts one another. They share meals together. They form relationships that can weather life’s storms. When disagreement occurs, they seek clarification. They assume the best of others. They draw closer to one another in challenging times. Grace is abundant, and forgiveness is practiced.

A community where trust is absent is suspicious of one another. The worst is always assumed. Relationships are weak and easily broken. Sacrifices are made for self but not for others. Grace is absent. Accusations are plentiful, and reconciliation is not possible.

The world cannot exist without communities built on trust. We will bite and devour one another. Communities are people, and the type of communities we have depends on us. Here’s what we need to do to build trusting communities.

Talk face to face whenever possible.
Assume people are good and have good motives.
Regularly work on strengthening relationships.
Practice grace all the time.
Cultivate opportunities for joy.
Serve one another.
Spend time together often.
Encourage regularly and only critique when necessary.
Focus on your shortcomings rather than the shortcomings of others.

We also need to be aware of influences in our lives that are sources of distrust. If something or someone is causing you to distrust people you love or creating rifts in communities you have belonged to for years, then get rid of it. Be aware of dangerous voices that are bent on destruction.

Choose trust even when it is difficult. Choose trust even though you may get burned. Choose trust even though the world tells you not to. It is a risk. Love is always a risk, but the reward is great, and the possibilities beautiful.