God’s words, not mine

given on Sunday, July 31, 2016

Scripture connections:

Matthew 28: 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)

 

Matthew 22: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(NIV)

 

Galatians 2: 15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[a] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

 

Galatians 3: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 5: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. . . . 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 6: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Colossians 1: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[e] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[f] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

Colossians 1: 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 2: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Colossians 3: Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

 

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

 

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

 

 

Reflection:

 

I apologize. I am not Paul nor do I ever presume that I have all the answers. Yet, I do try to pray, read, study, and listen for God’s word in order to lead others to Christ. I have failed.

After walking away from last Sunday’s service, I realized that somehow, some way a breakdown of God’s church was developing and I needed help. First, I had to clear my head and that took a couple of days and those days were filled with everything but a divine inspiration.

  • Conversations were replayed in my head.
  • Textbooks readings surround my living spaces.
  • The calendar keeps filling up.

In the center of it all, I felt lost. My mind simply could not process anything and I knew I had to regroup quickly. Life was not going to slow down for me. If God was going to have a chance, I had to change something.

Once I had processed what was cluttering my brain, I began seeking sage advice. I read the lectionary, the commentary, and a few more odds and ends from the stacks of books surrounding me. Then I started sorting out questions. Slowly, a major line of thought—a God inspiration—began emerging: What does the Bible tell me? What does the Bible tell the church?

The answer lies in scripture, not only this week but over and over and over. Return to the Bible.   Read. Listen. Study. Read again. Pray. The Bible is holy literature that has withstood the test of time for thousands and thousands of years. The answer is not always easy to locate and sometimes the answer is pretty difficult to acknowledge. Still, the answer is buried in those words and the words of theologians and translators who have done the very same thing as we do today—read, study, pray, and listen.

I apologize if I have failed to communicate God’s timeless message in a manner that leads us to fulfill the commission Jesus issued to his disciples:

Matthew 28: 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)

 

Reading the lectionary reminds us that human nature has a tendency to repeat the same behaviors and every three years the theologians guide readers through the entire Bible three times never repeating the same verses within that time frame. The theory is that by following the lectionary for three years, readers will have read the entire Bible once.

The lectionary is a tool. The study notes of our Bibles are supplementary tools. Add to that the textbooks or additional materials available provide more opportunities to hear God speak to us. I have struggled with the daily discipline needed to combat my human character and personality and to follow God’s calling to serve. How does one quiet the babbling in one’s head to hear God talk? Much less, how does one find what is God telling his church to do?

During the past couple of months, the assigned readings from the lectionary have included selections from Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Colossians. In my Life Application Study Bible, each chapter begins with a sidebar “Vital Statistics” and it begins with the purpose of each book. Looking at the purpose of Paul’s letter written to the church communities, one sees that today’s challenges are really no different than challenges to churches throughout time:

  • Romans: To introduce Paul to the Romans and to give a sample of the message before he arrives in Rome.
  • I Corinthians: To identify problems in the Corinthian church, to offer solutions, and to teach the believers how to live for Christ in a corrupt society.
  • 2 Corinthians: To affirm Paul’s ministry, defend his authority as an apostle, and refute the false teachers in Corinth.
  • Galatians: To refute the Judaizers (who taught that Gentile believers must obey the Jewish Law in order to be saved), and to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ.
  • Ephesians: To strengthen the believers in Ephesus in their Christian faith by explaining the nature and purpose of the church, the body of Christ.
  • Philippians: To thank the Philippians for the gift they had sent Paul and to strengthen these believers by showing them that true joy comes from Jesus Christ alone.
  • Colossians: To combat errors in the church and to show that believers have everything they need in Christ.
  • I Thessalonians: To strengthen the Thessalonian Christians in their faith and give them the assurance of Christ’s return.
  • 2 Thessalonians: To clear up the confusion about the second coming of Christ.

 

Seven different churches all were sent letters to communicate Paul’s messages. Each different congregation had its own issues and as Bible readers/students learn, these problems appear in churches repeatedly. Paul’s letters continue to guide today’s congregations and that means our own right here, right now.

Beginning the last Sunday in May, the weekend before Annual Conference, the lectionary included the first reading from Galatians and that, remember, is the letter Paul wrote to clarify the application of the New Law to the Jewish traditionalist wanting to force the Gentiles to follow the Old Law.

Do we, in our own church need the same reminder? Of course we do. Reading through Galatians during the remaining weeks of June, churches are reminded that the stringent laws are not required, that the church is open to all people. There is no closed door in a church that is following God’s call to serve all the people in all the ways that they possibly can. God’s words overrule my words or any other person’s words:

Galatians 2: 15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[a] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

 

Galatians 3: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 5: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. . . . 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 6: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

 

These words send red flags to today’s churches that are struggling to survive in a corrupt culture that seems to creep into our lives as silently and stealthily as the fog we have seen these past few days. The sun burns the fog off, and God’s Son should burn the fog off in today’s churches.

And again, I apologize. God’s message is not getting communicated well. I continue to read and to study, but life gets into the middle of my own calling and I fail.

The lectionary does not fail, though, and as July began Paul’s letter to Galatians continued to explain how the Old Law did not apply once Christ delivered the New Law, was crucified, died, and arose. Does our church need Paul’s words to guide us to opening our doors to others?

Then the lectionary shifts into Colossians and Paul tries:

 

To combat errors in the church and to show that believers have everything they need in Christ.

 

As the month continued—and now ends—with the readings from Colossians:

Colossians 1: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[e] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[f] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

Colossians 1: 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 2: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Colossians 3: Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

 

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

 

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

 

How can we ignore the words written so many years ago but still apply today? We are living in a corrupt society. We are still trying to preserve the way things were rather than adapting our methods to a world that has raced ahead filling our communities with so many temptations that our churches cannot ‘combat evil’ successfully.

John Wesley lived in a corrupt world, as did so many Christian theologians. We live in a corrupt world, too, but there is no reason to give up trying to make a difference. My high school graduating class selected a quote that continues to be a driving force in my own life:

Take the world as you see it,

but leave it better.

 

I googled those words and I could not find the original source, but I certainly remember the work we put into selecting that quote and the value it has provided me in my life. When you add that quote to Wesley’s quote:

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

How can one go wrong following God’s New Law found in Matthew 22 when Jesus was asked:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(NIV)

 

Let’s put these words into action. Let’s work together. Let’s study together. Let’s pray together.

Join together in conversation. The second week of the challenge to meet on Tuesday morning, 10 am, at the church to read and to discuss the small book, I am a church member, is open to each and every one in our community. We have just five more weeks to prepare for the fair and our doors are literally wide open. There can be no better opportunity to open the hearts of our neighbors to the love of Christ who offers hope in a world filled with corruption.

Closing prayer:

Dear Guiding Father,

Your servant Paul has guided the church for centuries,

We read his words but struggle to understand.

Use the words to open our hearts.

Use the words to guide us in the very principles of love.

Help us to work together to change our world.

Help us to demonstrate service in all the ways we can.

May we love one another as you have loved us.

May we serve one another as you served us.

Keep us focused on your message of compassion.

Keep us focused on the promises of life eternal

As we live our Christian faith out loud in our community

So others may find grace and hope in your love. –Amen

 

Benediction from Scripture:

Colossians 3: 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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