Submission and Selflessness

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Wisdom 4:16-5:8Col. 1:24-2:7Luke 6:27-38

For those who dislike Paul, your cure may be today’s reading in Colossians.  This is a man who is completely dedicated to the task at hand.  His commitment to Christ almost brings tears to my eyes.

Not only does he “rejoice in [his] sufferings” but he offers an image of complete surrender: “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.”  He sees his life, not as his own, but that of the Church’s – the body of Christ.

As I travel throughout Maumee Valley Presbytery, I encounter many who are pouring their heart and soul into building up the body of Christ.  It is overwhelming some days.  To me it is a sign of the resurrection.  The dedication, the commitment, the submission to Christ that is see gives me hope in the human race, and in Christianity for the 21st Century.

The church is growing by leaps and bounds in South America and Africa.  It will not surprise you to hear the same has not been the case in North America.  And despite the rumors, the “mega” churches are not growing either.  They come.  They go.  The data supports they are similar to mainline churches – slowly trending downward.

But not so in South America and Africa!  The Church is experiencing growth – profound growth.  And no, it is not “contemporary worship” that gets the headlines.  Which churches are growing?  It is the Roman Catholic Church.  It is the Presbyterian Church in Africa that is growing.  Joel Olsteen is not the face of the growing Church in Africa, it turns out.  Pentecostalism is on the rise – hardly an expression of the prosperity gospel phenomena we see in America.  The Orthodox Church in the USA is growing.  Megachurches are in slow decline.  Those are the facts. 

I believe much of this has to do with commitment to the Holy Spirit at work.  We have a culture that simply does not value submission and dedication.  Many in our culture value individualism, adventure, and the taking of personal risk.  This has little to do with submitting to the body of Christ, or building up something other than one’s self.

So when I reflect on the decline of some of our churches in North America, I don’t get too upset.  Perhaps God needs to prune us a little.  Perhaps the wheat and the tares need to be separated a bit.  It also becomes a fair challenge that God has given us.  It is not a time to lament, but a time to work – and submit – for the Holy Spirit.

I see that happening in Maumee Valley.

I see a number of our churches flourishing in ministry and mission.  That is what happens when a church commits deeply to the Holy Spirit’s work in its neighborhood, and the lives of its members.  I am thankful – not for the daring and bold new initiatives – but for the submission and selflessness that I see.  I am most thankful when I see servanthood.  I am thankful for those who consistently put themselves second, and dedicate and commit their time and talents to something greater – God’s commission and they mystery of Christ’s revelation to the world.

At the presbytery meeting we will hear some of the stories of this daring dedication.  Come and see!  3pm.  Tuesday.  Waterville.

-Matt

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CHOSEN and Thankful

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Wisdom 3:1-9Col 1:15-23Luke 6:12-26

Presbyterians baptize children.  In doing so we talk constantly about how God has CHOSEN us.  It is God who chooses, God who directs, God who initiates our welcome to a new life, God who claims us in baptism as his own.

God choosing to be our God is a constant theme in the Bible.

Today in Luke, Jesus chooses the twelve disciples.  Already our ears should perk up.

Jesus goes to the mountain to pray, spending the whole night in prayer.  When day breaks, he calls all the disciples together and chooses from among them twelve, and he names those twelve apostles.

What has God chosen you for?  What spiritual gifts intersect with the world’s needs, and where are you serving God’s kingdom?  How are you a disciple?

There are a couple of details that jump out at me in this story.  The first is the altering of the name from disciple to apostle.  It becomes clear that those who are “apostles” have special spiritual gifts, perhaps for leadership.  One can still be a disciple!  There is no “NO” in this selection.  Yes to some, and a double Yes to others.

Another curious element of this passage is its reliance on the sovereign judgment of God.  This passage is very Presbyterian!  In many non-Presbyterian churches the preaching these days focuses on how we have to “choose Jesus”.  Time and time again, scripture attests to God choosing us.  Being a Jew wasn’t something one chose, but something one was born with.  “These are my people…this is my story.”

Here Jesus chooses.  There is no indication of how or why, but we come to know why.  They do not possess amazing integrity or character.  They are not rich and do not particularly have deep connections in top places, able to get good underwriters for their ventures.  No, they were ordinary men.  They were much like you and me.

But God saw something special in them.  Mass appeal.  Future leadership potential.  Ordinary folk from ordinary walks of life who could reach out to others.  Whatever you want to call it.  Heck, it could have been you and me.  Oh my goodness….it is!

That is the good news in all of this: YOU TOO ARE CHOSEN BY GOD.  To what I am not sure.  But you are chosen and loved by God.  The question is what are you going to do with it?

-Matt

A New Lens

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Wisdom 1:16-2:11,21-24Col. 1:1-14Luke 6:1-11

After an extended gap for Morning Reflections, I return.  Part of the issue has been settling into a new morning routine – living in a small apartment with a dog, extended morning walks, commute to work, etc.  It is also the demands of a new job, relationships to foster, procedures to get to know.

With normal routines out the window, it is not going to surprise you that observing a Sabbath day was getting more and more difficult.  It was moving around, sometimes not happening very well, and generally my schedule was all over the map.

I had to laugh then when I turned to our passages this morning only to discover Jesus breaking the Sabbath – and quite deliberately to make a point!

Jesus cures on the Sabbath.  He teaches on the Sabbath.  He allows his disciples to pluck heads of grain and eat the grain.  All this is considered work.

Jesus ends one of the conversations with: “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus also reinterprets the entirety of the Law.  No longer is the Law meant to restrict, but to set free.  It is not that the Law is obsolete, but must always be read through the lens of love.  And so, in that respect, we are not to focus on the fact that these heads of grain are being plucked (i.e. work) and that they are most probably stolen from a field that is not theirs.  Instead we are to focus on their hunger, and God’s desire to provide for us in times of need.

It is with this spirit that Colossians begins.  “We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord.”

In our culture of instant gratification, patience is not much of a virtue.  But the Christian life demands it.  Coming to a knowledge of God’s will and cultivating wisdom are lifelong endeavors.

More than that, we are not asked to pick up our Bibles and check our minds at the door, but to wrestle with the struggles of the Law and love.  We are meant to breathe it in deeply and come to wisdom and understanding.

This is not an easy endeavor, but one that requires patience and fortitude.  It also requires a certain counter-cultural deliberateness.  Looking through a lens of love changes things!  To lead lives worthy of the Lord means turning from what the world says is important, to what God deems important.  

I wonder how this is true in your life.  From what do you need to turn to find spiritual health?  Money?  The tyranny of the clock?  An abusive relationship?

Whatever it is, I pray that God dwells in you richly, and that your hunger is satisfied by the Bread of Life.

-Matt