Put up with me

Most New Testament letters are situational. That is, there is some situation that informs the content and purpose of each letter. Nothing we read is random.

The letter to the Romans, for example, sought to unite Roman Christians. There was a strong point of contention among them that Paul addressed. It’s thought that Paul spoke to tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome. I’ve learned recently of another idea. That Paul was writing, by and large, to a Gentile audience. Some Gentile Christians thought it was necessary to take on Jewish identity. Others did not.

Those ideas shape how we read some of Paul’s admonitions in the letter.

As I reread Romans, I can’t help but see how most of what Paul spoke of thousands of years ago could help us in our modern context. We may be arguing and disagreeing about different topics today, but we are still arguing and disagreeing with each other.

Paul frames the tensions facing the Romans through worship. There were some who had a constrictive idea of what was faithful. This had to do with eating unclean food. Paul called these people weak. Now, he wasn’t insulting them. Although you can imagine how someone may take a word like that. But in chapter 14 he says, “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

Is that anything we need today?

Part of Paul’s prescription for doing so involved a level of humility a lot of us aren’t willing to share. If you consider yourself one of the strong ones, then it’s up to you to “put up with the failings of the weak.” Let that sink in for a moment or two. Most times, putting up with someone carries a negative connotation.

In light of pursuing what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding, what does it mean to put up with someone?

Here’s how the Message translation says it: Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient. Strength is for service, not status.

Let me repeat that last line: Strength is for service, not status.

Paul’s recipe, then, for God’s kind of peace is humble service toward one another. It’s not winning arguments. It’s not shaming others into belief. It’s certainly not holding yourself in high regard.

He goes on to remind us of Christ’s willingness to take on the insults of the world for our salvation. We are weak. Christ is strong. What did Christ do for us? That’s what we’re called to do for one another.

Stay blessed…john

A few more feet

There’s a lot of great Christian imagery in Psalm 95.

Think about the joyous singing, shouting to the Rock of our salvation and kneeling before our Maker. It is a royal psalm, directing the praise of God’s people to the Lord’s kingship.

Why do we have such joy? Why are we always singing? Because the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.

I recall a cartoon I saw one Easter season. There are two guards standing in front of the empty tomb. They’re discussing what might have happened. One guard says to the other something like, “I don’t know what happened, but I bet those Christians will have written a dozen songs before the day is over.”

We sing because God reigns.

But we do more than sing, don’t we?

Time and time again, the psalms portray an active worship of God. It is a participatory action that all God’s people join. Be it with music, singing or dancing, we move in our worship. Maybe that’s what moves us in worship.

Psalm 95 offers another form of worship. Our joyful praise leads to our bowed posture. Why are some Christians intimidated by bowing before God? We’re already under the Lord. 

“To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14). What difference are a few more feet going to make?

In a way, those last few feet it takes to bow before God make all the difference in our hearts. As much as kneeling can be a posture of our hearts, when did we stop physically kneeling before God? I know knees have gotten older, but did we teach our younger people the act of kneeling before God? Why have we made it such a “Catholic thing”?

Most times I’ve heard Psalm 95 preached or used as a call to worship, the fun stops at about verse seven. The last four verses take a scathing turn. Whereas we began with joyful praise, we end with God’s anger. No one wants to talk about that.

Well, the psalmist did. And it was a part of his worship.

Let’s be grateful he did. Today, I hear God speaking to us about our posture of praise. When was the last time you were on your knees not just in prayer but in praise? Read the psalm again and you’ll notice there’s no mention of kneeling in order to petition God. That’s an appropriate form of prayer we can find in other places.

In Psalm 95, though, our kneeling is our acknowledging God’s greatness. And while you can pray faithfully sitting upright in your pew or driving in your car listening to praise music, imagine what happens in our soul when we praise God in kneeling adoration.

If we don’t, we run the risk of being like those who hardened their hearts before God. That’s no way to end our praise.

Stay blessed…john