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One Spirit

religious stained glass
 
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.  Then…I will know that you stand firm in one Spirit. Philippians 1:27 
 
It is odd on one hand, to think of this body of Christ to which we belong…as one.  To drive down the road and see a Methodist church over here and a Roman Catholic church over there and a Lutheran church over here and a nondenominational church over there would seem to indicate that we are anything but one.  And to be sure, there are differences between us.

The differences that exist between Christians and Christian churches can come from a couple of angles.  One reason is the legitimate, understandable differences in the way we interpret Scripture.  To be sure, Christ doesn’t want it that way.  But some will look at a particular passage or truth of Scripture and interpret it one way, while others will understand it another way.  We band with those who see it in the same way and are thus distinct from the others who see it differently.  Again, it is because of sin and the inability to understand Scripture perfectly that this happens.  But at least this reason for differences has some integrity.  More unfortunate is when differences exist because Scripture isn’t being considered anymore.  When those within Christianity make social popularity or acceding to the current societal trends the determiner of what is believed and taught, we can certainly understand why there would be distinctions.

But when we speak of the Christian Church, we distinguish between the Visible Church and the Invisible Church.  What we’ve been talking about, with denominations and congregations with distinct views is the visible church.  And in the visible church, there is no oneness.  But theologically, there has always been the categorization of invisible church as well.  This church, the invisible church, is comprised only of believers who have something most important in common.  We believe in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and know that Jesus died and rose again so that we would be forgiven and saved.

Here, in the invisible church, we are one, or, as Paul says in Philippians 1:27, we are one Spirit.  This is how the Nicene Creed can refer to us as “one, holy, Christian, and apostolic church.”  Despite all of the external differences, we as Christians, all of us, are one in what matters most, believing in salvation through Jesus Christ.  In this oneness, we rejoice!
 
Prayer: O Lord God, we pray for the day that all Christians will be united in all the truths of your Word.  But until then, we rejoice that you have granted us all a common faith in Christ as Savior, and look forward to our eternal life together.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

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Prayers

man wearing long sleeved shirt sitting
 
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  (Matthew 6:5-8)
 
My prayer life is a work in progress.  Truth be told, I’ve struggled with it my whole life.  I admire those whose prayers seem to come so naturally.  I guess part of it is an occupational hazard: pastors are so often called on to say prayers in public that are supposed to be eloquent and “put together.”  <sigh>

But I’ve learned something: It’s not about trying to impress God with my prayers.  That’s not the point.  He wants me to be honest, straight-forward, and sincere.  And so my prayers have gotten much shorter!   In fact, when I don’t know what to pray, I tend to repeat the Kyrie:  “Lord, Have Mercy.  Christ, Have Mercy.  Lord, Have Mercy.”

I’ve also learned that when it comes to prayers, the old Nike slogan is probably best:  Just do it!  Maybe it’s a few words in the car on the way to work; a few moments of silence after the dinner prayer to thank God for other blessings besides the food; a heartfelt plea in the middle of the work day for help, for strength, for mercy!  Instead of waiting for your prayer life to be all that it can be, perhaps just work on talking to your Father whenever you can with whatever words you can muster.

As much as my prayer life is a work in progress, I’ll assure you of this much: the older I get the more I realize what a privilege it is to come to my God in prayer, knowing that He hears me for Christ’s sake.

It’s not about impressing God or others.  It’s not about fancy or voluminous words.  It’s about a relationship with a Dad who loves you and hears and answers.  God help us to pray!

Heavenly Father, You have invited us to pray and promised to hear and answer.  By Your Spirit, increase in us the desire to turn to You in all circumstances.  Help us to see prayer as a gift of Your Grace.  In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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Imitate Christ

view of cross during golden hour
 
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…Philippians 2:5 
 
We have all seen this on tv or in the movies.  We have all seen someone imitating someone else.  For those of us who are a little older, we remember one of the great impressionists named Rich Little.  He did so many imitations of so many famous people.  Of course, so much of it has to do with the voice.  And I guess Rich Little simply had a voice that could be like a lot of other voices, with the right manipulation.  But there was more than just the voice.  He would also imitate mannerisms.  If a celebrity whose impression he was doing had a unique walk, that’s how Rich Little would walk.  If they had a unique way of always adjusting their necktie or looking in another direction, he would do that too. 

When Paul encourages us in Philippians 2 that we should be like Christ, he talks about having the attitude of Christ.  Attitude might be conveyed in a voice, but much more often, it is conveyed through mannerisms.  We don’t know what the voice of Jesus sounded like when He was living in this world 2000 years ago, but we sure know what He did and what His mannerisms were like.  And the one that Paul highlights in the verses following Philippians 2:5 is Christ’s humility.

If we’re going to imitate Christ, we will be humble.  Paul starts with the fact that Christ humbled Himself by becoming one of us.  But quickly, Paul takes us to the cross.  This is humility incarnate.  As our Lord carried our sins and the sins of the world, He was putting us and everyone else ahead of Himself.  That’s the mannerism we imitate.

Certainly, we cannot go to the lengths Christ did in dying to take someone else’s sins away, but we can imitate Christ when we put the needs, the concerns, the wellbeing of others ahead of even our own.  To feed the hungry, visit those imprisoned, clothe the poor, this is how we imitate Christ.  And the reason we can, is because of what He did for us.
 
Prayer: O Lord Jesus, may we imitate you.  May we learn from and adopt your humility, showing love to others as you have loved us.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

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Repent Remember Rejoice

gray concrete statue near green trees during daytime
 
“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me…Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Romans 7:19-20, 24-25

There isn’t a Christian who hasn’t struggled with sin and come up a loser.  There are those times that sin seems to overpower us and overwhelm us.  We all have those sinful habits and addictions that seem to plague us no matter how hard we try to get rid of them.  Even the Apostle Paul lost battles with his sinful nature!

But Paul gives us great news here.  When we fall into sin, that sin doesn’t define us.  Yes, sin lives within us and will stick with us on this side of eternity.  Yet, that sin is in us, but it isn’t us.  We’re defined by our relationship with Jesus Christ.  He is our Savior.  He has rescued us, and He is greater than our sin.

One of my favorite Martin Luther quotes puts it perfectly:  “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this:  ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it?  For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf.  His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is, there I shall be also!'”

It’s understandable that our losing battles with sin discourage us.  But that’s why we look to Jesus and His cross and empty tomb for our identity.  For that’s where our sins have been paid for and put in their place.

Repent when you sin.  Remember that Jesus died for you.  Rejoice in the forgiveness, life and salvation that is yours.

Gracious Father, when I struggle to overcome my sinful habits and addictions, remind me that You have already declared that I am victorious over sin through Jesus’ cross and empty tomb.  Give me strength to daily repent, to daily remember Christ’s death for me, and to daily rejoice in that life and salvation that is mine through faith.  In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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Like Stars

nebulas
 
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved and crooked generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe… Philippians 2:14-15 
 
One has to appreciate the language and choice of words employed by Paul in Philippians 2.  Some of our translations say that we “shine like lights.”  Others put it more poetically, saying that we “shine like stars” in this crooked and depraved generation.  How are we as the people of God like stars?

For one thing, there are a lot of us.  While we sometimes get discouraged at what seems to be a decline of Christianity in our society, make no mistake about it, Christianity is growing and growing vibrantly throughout the world.  And so, a wonderful consolation that we can have is that we are part of a body that is vast and expanding, by the grace of God.

We are like stars because, frankly, some of us shine brighter than others.  That’s not to say that some are better than others or that some are dim while others are vivid.  It’s a reality.  There are those who are among us who don’t say much, or don’t really make a point of pointing to Christ in words or actions.  But there are others whose connection with Christ cannot be mistaken by anyone looking at them.  Which are you?

We are like stars because one can’t always see all of us.  You know how this is.  Depending upon where you are, maybe when you look up, you only see a few stars.  Then you get out into the countryside and it’s like the heavens are full of them.  The fact is, we have brothers and sisters all over the world.  And one of the most rewarding things is to run into a fellow Christian, a person you’d never met, and realize after only a few moments that this is your brother or sister.

It is God who has made us like stars in the senses we’ve been talking about.  He is the one who has called us into His family, equips us to serve Him, and allows us the joy of being in fellowship with one another, through the salvation of Jesus Christ.  May we continually shine like stars.

Prayer: O Lord God, we thank you that we are in your family, able to demonstrate whose we are, rejoicing in the fellowship of believers.  In Jesus’ name we thank you.  Amen.

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