Tag Archives: unity

Choosing to Love

You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.
1 Peter 1:22, NLT*

Sincere love. Deep, whole-hearted love. This isn’t surface-friendly love. Nor it is always warm and fuzzy.

This is love as a choice. An act of the will, a decision of the mind. If the heart is slow to catch up, it can’t be allowed to affect the acting out of the love.

Let’s be honest. The whole reason onlookers were surprised to see how the early church loved one another is that we’re not a lovable bunch. We’re real people, like everyone else, with hurts, hang-ups, and habits.

Our love for the God who loves us – that’s the glue that binds us together. He loves us, and He says to love one another, so we do it for Him.

An important way to start is by asking God what He sees when He looks at each one. Not what dirt does He still see to clean up, but what potential? What did He design this person to become? What gifts has He given that He’d like to see developed and used? And, I suppose, what hurt does He see that He’d like to use you or me to help heal? What need, to help meet?

Then we need to pray for one another. Individually, by name, for God’s best in the person’s life. Sincere prayer grows love.

We’ll likely also need to pray for ourselves. “Lord, change me” is a prayer God loves to answer. After all, we can’t change others. As we let Him change us, though, that may inspire change around us.

Lord, change me… and thank You for Your patience and mercy in the changing. Grow Your church and help us to love one another as You love us, for the glory of Your Name. May others see enough of You in us to draw them to know You.

If you’re having trouble loving some of the people in your church, here’s the song that’s now my prayer: Matt Maher‘s “Instrument.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Seeing One Another

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
2 Corinthians 5:16-17, NLT*

When we look at our brothers and sisters in Christ, do we remember they’re new people? Or do we focus on the bits of their old nature still clinging to the edges of their newness?

When conflicts arise and difficulties spring up, do we band together, united by a common love of Jesus? Or do we pick at one another, take sides, form factions? Allow bitter roots to grow?

Despite differences of opinion, we who are born again spiritually are new people, citizens of God’s kingdom. We see Jesus differently, as believers. We need to see each other differently as well.

What if we consciously chose to look for signs of new life in one another instead of focusing on the negatives? To pray for one another instead of putting up walls? To pray with one another until we found common ground?

Not that we’d agree about everything, but could we hear and understand one another? Love and forgive, even if life moved us in different directions?

I’ve been asking God lately to help me see: His nature, His leading, beauty, opportunities, needs. I want to thank Peter Black of Raise Your Gaze for sharing today’s verses with me in an email. He didn’t know God would use them to point my eyes back to my own congregation with a prayer to see the new life and perhaps to somehow encourage it.

God our Saviour and Redeemer, You call us to reconciliation to Yourself and to one another. Forgive us when we allow the mess of living to obscure the new life You gave us. Help us each to recognize and confess, daily or even more frequently, those things that dim our light. Help us stay as close as possible to You, so we won’t poison ourselves or others. Give us Your love for one another so that those around us will recognize something that only You can do.

Our song this week is Russ Taff‘s “We Will Stand.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Running and Life Lessons

Last Saturday, I participated in my first-ever 5K running event (that’s 5 kilometres for my US friends, which translates to roughly 3.11 miles). This proves that God has a sense of humour, because I have never been athletic.

The Hillside2Haiti run is sponsored by a local church that regularly sends mission teams to Haiti to teach life skills. I’d wondered for a while about attempting a challenge like this, and when I saw the promotional material at another event, I recognized that the time was right.

I’d been running in the gym with my music, and now I started running on the streets around my home. Alone and content that way.

From the early stages of the Hillside2Haiti event, I ran with my friend Kim. I kept telling her not to slow herself down for me, but we found a pace that suited us both and by running as partners, encouraged one another to reach our dream goal of running the entire distance without taking walk breaks. (Yes, I know you can go faster if you take walk breaks. If you have enough stamina to go faster.)

Crossing the finish line was as surreal as signing my first novel contract. Despite my hopes, clearly some deep part of me never thought it would happen. Along the way, I observed a few parallels between running and the Christian life:

  • The participants came in all shapes, ages, sizes, fitness levels; some walked, some run/walked, some ran: we were all heading for the same finish line.
  • We swarmed out onto the road, stopping traffic: there’s strength in numbers, and together we can overcome certain obstacles.
  • A runner put on extra speed to catch us and return Kim’s headband, which we hadn’t known had fallen: help one another out, even when it’s hard work.
  • One runner stopped to fix a shoe: it doesn’t matter if something stops us, what matters is that we start again.
  • Those who ran in bursts and walked for brief recovery times finished with a better time than those who ran all the way; different people had different goals: pace yourself, set and know your strategy.
  • Some wanted speed time, some to run the full way, some had other goals: don’t judge someone for being on a different strategy; but do alert someone who has veered off the route.
  • Stopping to walk before you’re gasping means a shorter recovery before you can restart: be realistic about your abilities, while leaving room for God to stretch you a little farther than you think is comfortable.
  • It was a twisty, unfamiliar route, with no distance markers: not seeing how far we still had to go, or what hills lay ahead, kept discouragement away.
  • Previous running experience teaches you to slow down on the hills and to know you’ll recover on the flats: remember where God has already met us, choose to trust Him to do it again.
  • After slowing for hills, speed back up when you can: pace yourself, but beware the danger of starting to coast longer than necessary.
  • I thought we’d reached the end, but it was the start of a long, hard final stint; discouragement would have stopped me there, to walk the rest of the way, but my partner was still running: in disappointment, we need help to carry on.
  • There were water stations: take your own sustenance for the journey, but expect God’s provision en route.
  • We cheered for the children crossing the finish line on their race before ours started, and cheered on other runners as they passed us or came across the line after we did: we need to be encouragers, and it does something positive in us when we are.
  • Training for a race helps us run it better: remember the Christian life is a race, be diligent with spiritual training. Also, we train better with a goal, so don’t slack off because we don’t see trouble yet.
  • Good equipment helps: what spiritual equipment do we need?
  • Keep your sense of humour because there’s no dignity in the final stages of a race: don’t worry about appearances.
  • The sense of unity: isn’t that’s what it’s all about – the body of Christ, united in relationship with Him?
  • There was a big red start/finish arch: finally seeing the end in sight gives fresh energy.
  • The celebration at the finish line: “when we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be,” and yes, it may feel a little surreal.

Still with me? Give yourself a medal, and here are the biggest benefits I discovered about running with a partner:

  • we encouraged one another to keep going
  • we bonded through the experience and through sharing conversation
  • we distracted one another from the hardest parts
  • knowing that stopping would let the other down kept us each pushing on
  • under 38 minutes from the start, we crossed the line together
Photo of Janet and Kim, side by side, putting on extra speed because we've seen the finish line.

Janet and Kim: we have seen the finish line, and we can do this. Photo credit: Your Running Race Photos (Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/YourRunningRacePhotos)

https://www.facebook.com/YourRunningRacePhotos

 

Standing Together

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.
Philippians 1:27, NLT*

I’ve always taken the first part of this verse as a call to live like I believe the good news of Jesus—not to live cranky or fearful or hopeless, overwhelmed by circumstances as if they’re bigger than God.

Yes, Paul is clearly speaking in the plural, but I thought he was telling each of us how to live as individuals. Likely he is, but there’s more.

He’s speaking to the church at Philippi, to the body of Christ, called to live in unity. Called to be standing together.

I don’t know about you, but my church is a group of nice people, especially when we all have our “church faces” on. Is that all that unites us?

The believers in Philippi were united by passion for God in a sea of paganism.

In our churches, our gatherings with fellow believers, if we’re looking to Christ first and foremost, not looking to please ourselves or at one another, won’t this unity grow? Won’t it draw us together in this common struggle, so we’ll overlook our differences?

God our Saviour and our Hope, captivate us with Your beauty and majesty. Fill our hearts with longing to be closer to You—and to know You better and to see Your kingdom grow on earth. Let our selfish desires and our fears and opinions of others fade until You are our one desire, the most important thing in our lives.

To help us focus, here’s Robin Mark‘s “All for Jesus.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Flee. Pursue. Enjoy.

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.
2 Timothy 2:22, NLT*

…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:25, NLT*

The Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy are ones we need to hear today in our fragmented, too-busy world.

Run from—the NIV says flee—”anything that stimulates youthful lusts.” This includes more than just provocatively-dressed women wreaking havoc with men’s hormones. It’s anything that catches our eye/ear/heart and we want it. For those of us who aren’t young anymore, it can even be things that promise to help us feel/look/act young again.

Pursue “righteous living, faithfulness, love and peace.” They don’t grow without an investment of our cooperation and effort, even though God is the Master Gardener.

Enjoy the companionship of other Christians. As we spend less time in meaningful church experiences, and we find fewer believers in the workplace and neighbourhood, we’re losing our support system. We need the companionship, encouragement and challenges of other Christians. We are, after all, a body. Not a collection of single units.

Dear Father, please help us recognize when to run away—to run to You. Strengthen us to pursue the life You’ve designed us to live. Remind us of the importance of Christian companions. I especially pray for those who know You but have drifted away from church and Christian community, that You will bring Christians into their lives and help them recognize their need for fellowship and unity. Lord, we are weakest alone, and You call us to be strong in You and to not give up meeting together. Remind us when we forget, and please forgive our forgetting.

Let Geoff Moore‘s song, “The Body of Christ,” remind us we need each other.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

Working Together

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.
Romans 12: 4-6a, NLT*

In late 2011 I had a short-term job as part of a small team. Sometimes we were two, sometimes three. We had the common goal of distributing Christmas help to needy families.

There were a lot of details, loose ends, and sometimes a flood of volunteers needing direction. My supervisor could stop, look at the big picture, and direct traffic. Time and again, she turned a chaotic group of people into focused workers, each with his/her own task contributing to the whole.

I’d have been hiding in the corner, whimpering.

But I could handle the paperwork details. And she balanced my details and kept me from focusing on one tree and missing the forest.

We worked together in unity, each appreciating what the other did. There was no competition or self-pity that we weren’t the best at everything. Nor was there resentment of the other for not having the same abilities.

In our families, our workplaces, our churches… we have different gifts and we need each other. The problem is, some gifts can come wrapped in argumentative, competitive or just plain difficult packages. And sometimes we get difficult, feel unappreciated… “Why am I always the one who has to do this? Couldn’t someone else take a turn?”

God who formed us and who is patiently shaping us into who You designed us to be, thank You for our differences. Forgive us our impatience with one another. Forgive us our resentment of one another’s shortcomings, real or perceived. Help us see how we fit together, especially as families and as the church. Help us submit to You and to one another, help us to love one another and to give grace to cover the difficult spots. Help us value unity more than getting our own way. Make us one, as You are one.

I couldn’t find a video of Geoff Moore’s “The Body of Christ” (from his Saying Grace album) so here’s something a little different that the Lord provided for me. Please don’t look for accurate theology; take what’s true and applicable and remember that the power behind our oneness is Jesus Christ. This is from Disney’s Lion King 2: “We Are One.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.


For the Sake of the House of the Lord

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your prosperity.
Psalm 122:6-9, NIV*

This psalm always reminds me to pray for Jerusalem—for Israel—for God’s chosen people to recognize their Messiah, and for peace in their land.

Today I noticed it’s one of the songs of ascents the people would sing as they journeyed to Jerusalem for the prescribed feasts. They were coming to worship, and this lets me see their prayer of blessing from a different perspective: it’s not patriotism, they’re blessing the Holy City because of the Temple at its heart.

What about my own church? I pray for individuals when I know of a need, and sometimes I pray for the congregation as a whole, for vision or attitude. I pray for our church leaders and events.

But I’m challenged to pray after the pattern of Psalm 122 for my congregation today, for those who love my segment of the Body of Christ. For unity, for peace, “for the sake of the house of the LORD our God.”

Lord of Heaven and Earth, thank You for making a way for all people to come to You in worship. You’re building us into a living temple, and we need to have that same care for the Body of Christ that the Israelites had for the physical Temple. Help us intercede for one another. Grant us peace, security, prosperity…as You define them, and for Your glory.

Here’s a good prayer for each of our congregations and for the whole church: “Bind Us Together.”

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Loving God, Loving Others

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
1 John 4:20, NIV*

My automatic response to the second part of this verse is that it’s much easier to love God, who is perfect—and worthy of love—than to love imperfect people who may not seem “lovable”.

And the brother or sister I’ve seen, worked with and discovered the foibles of is harder to love than the one I’ve only met online and gotten to know the positive side of their nature. I’m sure others feel the same about me.

When I find myself arguing with Scripture, I know there’s a problem. This time, reading these verses, I stopped to think.

Maybe what I’ve been calling love for God, that response of my spirit to His, is worship, not love. Adoration, even.

When the Bible talks about love, it’s usually as an action rather than a feeling. We’re commanded to love our Christian brothers and sisters, as John reminds us in the very next verse.

That’s not a call to manufacture or pretend warm feelings toward one another. It’s a call to active love.

That brings a second question: if loving my brother and sister, whose needs I have seen, is the act of caring for them, what does it look like to love God? In the next chapter, John says we love God by keeping His commands.

We need to do this in His strength and by the power of His Spirit in us. With willing, thankful and surrendered hearts, as an offering of worship. There’s no room for legalism here.

Father, give me Your heart towards others, Christians and non. Empower me by Your Spirit to actively and practically show love to them, and by so doing to love You as well.

If Christians work together, imagine the difference we can make. Here’s a song from Russ Taff: “We Will Stand”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Rebuild the House

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the LORD. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops.”
Haggai 1:7-10, NIV*

God is speaking through Haggai to the Jews who have returned from exile. They’d started to rebuild the temple, but how could what they put together out of rubble compare with the remembered glory of Solomon’s temple? Building homes didn’t seem as impossible, and it was a legitimate need too.

Christians today don’t have a temple to rebuild, but we’re each temples of the Holy Spirit. And we’re not to neglect meeting together as congregations of faith.

We’re sure busy with our own “houses”: work, household duties, busy schedules… nobody has much time for church events. It’s hard enough to fit in time for Sunday worship.

The last thing we need is another church group or committee meeting. And people can burn out or weaken their families by being too busy in the church.

But this idea of building… rebuilding….

If we are the body—the church—then maybe the rebuilding isn’t about formal meetings or events. Maybe it’s about relationships. Some of that can happen in structured settings, but it can also happen one-on-one as we take the initiative.

This isn’t the pastor’s job. It’s up to each of us. And it’s what will cause observers to know we belong to Jesus.

Father, some things from my own “house” will need to move aside to make time for Yours. But doing things Your way is always better than pushing for mine. Please help me to seize the opportunities You give to connect with my spiritual brothers and sisters—so You may take pleasure in us and be honoured.

An appropriate song-prayer is “Bind Us Together”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

We Can’t Do It On Our Own

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1;2-3, NIV*

This is faith making a difference, and it’s something each Christian needs to have in his or her own life. As Paul goes on to say, it’s not something we do in our own strength: we need to receive the gospel “with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” (1 Thess. 1:5a, NIV)

It’s God in us who makes the difference.

Although individuals need to have a personal and vibrant relationship with God, Paul is speaking here to a group of believers operating as a whole—functioning as the body of Christ.

Could Paul write these words to churches today? Certainly to some, but not to all. Praise God for those congregations where His power and love are on display. And rather than judging or criticizing those where not much activity is visible to our eyes (which aren’t all-seeing!) let’s pray for growth and empowerment.

Father, I pray for Your global church and its individual congregations, that Your gospel would truly come with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. Revive us where needed, forgive where needed, and teach us how to live in unity. Grant us faith in You to produce work, love for You and for others to prompt our labour, and hope in Jesus to inspire our endurance.

Canadian singer-songwriter Brian Doerksen articulates our need in his song, “Hear Us Call”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.