What’s our glory?

It’s another day. I’m another john. and this is another note. 

I wrote a worship song that entails several lessons I’ve shared from the book of Ephesians recently. I had fun writing it, and it was a blessing to lead it during worship this weekend. The chorus says:

God has saved us and raised us.
We are one in the Lord.
Now, our glory is only
when we live as one.

There’s one part I struggled with for a bit. What is our glory?

What are we most proud of in our local congregations? Each of the seven churches I’ve served had a glory. For some, the glory was their history and tradition. For another, it was their fundraiser. I can hear committee meetings in one church that boasted of their various ministries.

And so on.

I understand being proud of such things, mostly.

But I’ve never had a church say they were proud of their unity. Now, that could be because it was an assumed quality. Maybe no one thought it was that big a deal. Perhaps they didn’t want to boast. 

Pastoral ministry has taught me much about the church. One glaring lesson is that church unity has eternal implications. That makes it worth pursuing. More than we realize or appreciate. And I don’t mean we-get-along-and-most-people-like-each-other niceness. That’s great, but it can be, and most times is, superficial.

The unity I’m referring to has to do with the will of God and the connection we have as believers. How much does the will of God guide and direct what we do as a local congregation? In other words, how much do we glory in God’s will? And even people who despise each other can be nice. So, what distinguishes our attitudes and relationships with others in our churches?

The opening line of Psalm 125 is powerful: Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. It’s affirming for a child of God to consider themselves to be that mountain. I like to think my faith strengthens me. But what of the whole people of God? What does that say about us?

Following that verse, the psalmist says, “the Lord surrounds his people.” Our unity with God, then, is what strengthens us as God’s church. When we collectively submit to God’s power and grace we become like Mount Zion. Nothing moves our foundation as we trust in God’s provision and promise. We stand tall as God’s own, following God’s way.

When we live into that unity, we show God’s glory. 

But there’s also the unity we share as the body of Christ: one body and one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:5-6). When we learn to live into the unity God desires for the church, that’s our glory. That’s what we can be proud of. Even then, it’s not that we’re so great at what we do. It’s that God’s grace has finally transformed our hearts and minds. When that happens, our glory is only when we live as one with God and each other.

Stay blessed…john

Avoid ’em or confront ’em?

There’s an idea that Paul’s ending to the Roman epistle is an afterthought.

Many people consider Romans to be Paul’s great theological discourse. There are portions that certainly read that way. But I appreciate the idea that the letter is more pastoral than it is doctrinal. As such, the unity of the Roman congregation wasn’t an afterthought. It was the whole point of writing the letter in the first place.

Read it in that light to gain a different perspective of what Paul says.

So, all that to say, the unity of the church is paramount to Paul.

This is kind of a tricky subject. In Romans 16, Paul says to keep an eye on people who create division in the church. Ultimately, we are to “avoid them.” Exactly what does that mean?

Are we to ignore what they do and what they teach? Do we let them spread their division? Does letting their selfish ambition take root fall on us if we let it go? What about the incident in Galatians 2? This is when Paul says he confronted Peter for his hypocrisy, which could be divisive. Paul stood up to Peter “to his face.”

So, where’s the line between “avoid them” and stand up to their face?

Wherever it is, we’ll most likely find it if we pursue what Paul wanted for the Romans. In Romans 16:19, he said he wanted them “to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil.”

I remember I asked a congregation one time if they noticed something I observed. That we want to make sure we teach our children the way of the world. But we don’t put nearly as much effort or attention into teaching them the way of the Lord. We shouldn’t wonder too much, then, where shallow faith comes from.

To be wise in what is good, in part, is to learn God’s goodness. From there, what you learn about God guides how you live your life. Obedience to God’s goodness must guide our learning. It’s this life-long pursuit that will lead us to know when we should avoid those who seek to serve themselves or confront them.

Still, for today, I want to reflect more on what it means and what it looks like to avoid those who seek division. This was a way Paul thought to galvanize the church’s unity.

Confession: I’m more of a rip-the-band-aid-off kind of person. I’d be more prone to address something this important head-on. The unity of the church is at stake! So, someone like me needs to pray extra for godly wisdom and patience.

What about you?

Stay blessed…john

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